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SiRF enters multimedia market, eyes gPhone

Posted: 12 Feb 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:multimedia market? gPhone? GPS?

Often cast as a one-trick pony focused solely on GPS, SiRF Technology Inc. has expanded its market, entering the competitive multimedia phone race with a new multifunction platform called SiRFprima.

Building on its heavy-duty location engine, SiRF engineers integrated into the new platform an ARM11 core, a game-grade 3D graphics core from Imagination Technologies Ltd and other multimedia processing capabilities.

The move injects SiRF into a market traditionally dominated by Qualcomm Inc., Texas Instruments Inc. and Broadcom Corp.

GPS promise
SiRF also hopes to leverage its position as a development partner for Google's gPhone, Android. SiRF describes its specialty as folding "location-awareness" features into mobile devices. The company is betting on a scenario in which location-based multimedia applications such as 3D maps will become fashionable in cellphones and portable location devices.

Kanwar Chadha, SiRF founder and VP of marketing, said the company hopes another advantage will be that SiRFprima's multifunction engines can be "all tuned to run in harmony." By contrast, many of its competitors tend to offer separate, dedicated function chips for GPS, multimedia processing and video decoding, although their partitioning varies, Chadha said. When folded into location-based services, 3G graphics becomes a "must-have" element, Chadha added.

Still, the GPS "attach rate" in mobile handsets remains relatively low. While 70 percent of Qualcomm-supplied CDMA phones come with GPS, the navigation service is found in "less than 10 percent" of GSM phones, Chadha said. "But that's changing very quickly," he added.

Beyond the gPhone, Nokia recently bought Navteq Corp. with a plan to move into the GPS and mapping services. SiRF's competitors, including NXP Semicondutors, Broadcom and CSR, have been also on a GPS shopping spree.

The SiRFprima processor provides GPS location performance, including 64 channels with -161dB sensitivity. Further, the new engine is capable of simultaneously working with GPS and European Galileo systems.

The platform's hardware-accelerated 3D graphics and multimedia encoding and decoding engines are based on the PowerVR MBX 3D graphics accelerator core, vertex geometry processor and PowerVR MVED1 video encode/decode accelerator from Imagination Technologies.

Multimedia plan
Chadha noted that SiRF has been quietly developing a wide range of multimedia and SoC capabilities over the last few years. Its strategy is to move beyond GPS.

SiRF's acquisitions include: Impulse Soft, for its Bluetooth stack; Kiesel Microelectronics of Sweden, a developer of multifunction radio capabilities designed by ex-Ericsson engineers; TrueSpan, for its mobile TV tuner and diversity OFDM engine; and Centrality Communications, which has SoC expertise to build functions around GPS engines.

Of its 750 employees, SiRF now has 150 working in India, 150 in Shanghai, China, and 35 in Sweden, The rest are based in North America.

Just as Qualcomm used its baseband modem as "an anchor" and Broadcom boosted sales with its communication engines, Chadha said SiRF's goal is to use its location engine to develop a platform for convergence devices.

SiRFprima will be demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week. SiRF will begin sampling the platform in the Q2.

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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