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Broadcom Wants Your Smart Watch To Have GPS

Broadcom Wants Your Smart Watch To Have GPS
February 20, 2014 1:47PM

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Broadcom, which has unveiled a global location chip for wearables, is an interesting company in that it creates technologies without developing the end products in which the technology is actually used. Various Broadcom components are used in Apple’s iPhone, but they are also found in some Android devices, said analyst Charles King.

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Broadcom is looking toward the future with its latest innovation. The company just rolled out its Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) system-on-chip (SoC) that’s designed for low-power, mass-market wearable devices such as fitness trackers and smart watches.

According to Broadcom, its BCM4771 GNSS SoC with on-chip sensor hub makes it possible for consumers to more accurately track and manage their health and well-being by delivering precision activity tracking and location data while consuming less power than traditional architectures. The company said its chip also extends battery life needed by the growing wearable market.

"Today's wearables like fitness trackers have surged in popularity, but often miscalculate speed and distance," said Mohamed Awad, Broadcom’s director, Marketing, Mobile and Wireless Group. "As the largest supplier of discrete GNSS solutions, Broadcom brings its location expertise to deliver more precise fitness and health measurements to the accelerating wearable market."

How Does It Work?

Broadcom’s innovation could pay dividends sooner rather than later. According to ABI Research, wearable wireless device revenues are projected to exceed $6 billion in 2018 with sports, fitness and wellness as the largest segment with 50 percent share of all device shipments.

Here’s how it works: The new chip constantly monitors user activity levels and location history to improve accuracy and comes with advanced features such as location batching. BCM4771 also promises to significantly reduces power consumption and board area by combining its location capabilities with an integrated sensor hub, contextual awareness, and GNSS.

Designed in 40 nanometer process technology, the new chip includes a sensor hub that integrates sensor inputs for its on-chip algorithms to detect the user's context, accurately compute speed and distance traveled, and provide fitness applications with the GNSS track. Broadcom says it achieves power savings and advanced accuracy by intelligently leveraging context detection through the tight coupling of sensor inputs and GNSS on a single SoC. Broadcom's BCM4771 also claims a lower overall bill of materials cost through the integration of a multipurpose sensor hub.

Driving Competition

We caught up with Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, to get his take on the new innovation. He told us Broadcom is an interesting company in that it creates technologies without developing the end products in which the technology is actually used. Various Broadcom components are used in Apple’s iPhone, for example, but they are also found in some Android devices.

“What’s interesting to me about the wearable market, at least in the earliest phases we’ve seen with smart watches and fitness trackers, is that companies try to utilize proprietary technologies to differentiate its product,” King said.

“By creating this GNSS system-on-a-chip, Broadcom is bringing a key function to a much broader market. I would expect the ecosystem for these products to develop more quickly and for the market to be considerably more competitive in the number of products that enter the fray and the relative pricing of these products,” he added.

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