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CSR takes Bluetooth experience to new wireless fronts

Posted: 30 May 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:single-chip Bluetooth? GPS Wi-Fi modules? CMOS wireless devices?

When CSR plc set out for a single-chip Bluetooth solution back in 1999, industry observers were unconvinced about its design prospects. Upon completion of the design, skeptics said it wouldn't achieve the required yield. And even when the chip was ready for shipment, critics doubted the single-chip solution will work at the system design level.

An offshoot of Cambridge Consulting, CSR vowed to commercialize CMOS-based wireless products to achieve economy of scale during the early days of Bluetooth. "CSR envisioned Moore's Law for the wireless industry, which hasn't really been able to follow the curve," explains Matthew Phillips, senior VP, mobile handset connectivity SBU.

Over the years, the U.K.-based fabless company established itself as a Bluetooth silicon specialist by providing integrated silicon devices along with related software and firmware solutions. Now, CSR wants to take its Bluetooth success story and apply it to other critical wireless applications like GPS and Wi-Fi.

Bluetooth episode
Bluetooth has an interesting history. Initially, there was a lot of hype in the late 1990s, and then the level of interest started to wane as people took their eyes off the ball.

"CSR took a realistic and focused approach and it remained firm in its faith in CMOS," noted Phillips. "Eventually, Bluetooth became the vehicle for commercializing CMOS for wireless devices."

CSR was able to develop a credible and technically compelling solution for the Bluetooth adoption in portables. Over the years, the company built a competitive cost base with single-chip Bluetooth solutions for handsets. CSR's value proposition was further enhanced with the gradual buildup of the mobile infrastructure.

According to Phillips, CSR saw audio as a killer application for Bluetooth very early and subsequently put a DSP core on a Bluetooth silicon. However, he acknowledged that there is a plethora of design challenges. "The first and foremost was mixing RF with the baseband, and subsequently, deal with the issues of sensitivity, interference, noise and cross coupling."

Next stop: GPS
CSR sees GPS as another opportunity for an industry-transforming role at a time when cost has become a key barrier in the massive deployment of the technology in handsets. "We are looking for $1 cost structure for GPS deployment in mobile handsets," points out Stuart Strickland, GPS business unit manager.

GPS is a success story for navigation, but the cost scale is still high and compatibility issues in handsets result in noise and power concerns.

In the early going, cellular OEMs mostly took GPS modules from the dashboard and place them in mobile handsets. That resulted in high noise, and power became a major concern. On the other hand, mobile users' expectations are typically very high.

Strickland said that CSR would use mobile handset information to aid and drive GPS applications. "CSR's internal development efforts are focused on scaling the resources in a way that it reuses mobile handset's existing resources," he explained.

Moreover, the single-chip solution will help in meeting interoperability and power challenges, Strickland adds.

CSR has recently acquired a couple of location companiesCambridge Positioning Systems Ltd and Nordnav Technologies ABto realize the potential of GPS-centric services in handsets and other portable wireless devices.

Low-cost headsets
Going back to Bluetooth, CSR is currently working on a $6 headset in which software is ROMed to avoid flash memory chip costs. "It will encourage the impulse purchase of Bluetooth-enabled headsets," said Rafik Jallad, manager of automotive strategic business unit.

As for CSR's competitive position in Bluetooth silicon, Phillips says that it's now a mature industry and key solutions are out there in the market. "CSR got Bluetooth nailed."

"Size, scale and power were the key aspects of our Bluetooth experience and we are taking this experience a step further to enable convergence of wireless applications," Phillips concludes.

-Majeed Ahmad
EE Times-Asia

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