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Bluetooth chipmaker buys into GPS

Cambridge Silicon Radio says new acquisitions will make GPS-compatible phones cheaper and less power-hungry
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

A UK chip manufacturer is promising low-cost GPS for mobile phones in the near future, following its acquisition of two firms in the GPS field.

On Monday, Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR) announced it had bought NordNav Technologies and Cambridge Positioning Systems (CPS), in deals worth at least $75m (£38m).

Swedish company NordNav offers a lightweight software GPS engine which CSR hopes will bring down power consumption in location-aware devices. CPS has developed a system called Enhanced GPS (E-GPS) which it says establishes satellite fixes more quickly than is currently common, and gives more accurate results for areas with difficult coverage.

CSR has until now been known primarily as a Bluetooth chipmaker. Its move into GPS could drive down the costs associated with location-aware hardware when the two are combined, according to the head of the company's mobile handset connectivity unit, Matthew Phillips.

"It's an incremental cost of less than a dollar when used with CSR's Bluetooth," Phillips told ZDNet UK on Monday, adding that the acquisitions would help GPS become a more "disruptive technology" by lowering the price point and making it work better.

The current cost of implementing GPS in a handset tends towards the $5-$10 mark (£2.50-£5), which is one of the reasons why very few such handsets are presently available in the UK — although the picture is significantly different in America and the Far East. Phillips suggested that CSR's acquisitions could significantly speed up the success of location-based services around the world, claiming that there will soon be nothing to stop manufacturers from embedding GPS in a large range of handsets.

CSR's hugely successful Bluetooth offering hit potential problems recently after an American research foundation sued some of CSR's clients — including Nokia, Samsung and Panasonic — for patent infringement relating to the technology.

The Washington Research Foundation claims that CSR should have bought a licence from it to implement Bluetooth in its chips, as did rival Broadcom. Phillips declined to comment on the issue on Monday.

CSR's GPS chips will also be fully compatible with the new European alternative to GPS, Galileo, which is currently being constructed.

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