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China's BeiDou nav system fires up Qualcomm, Broadcom rivalry

Posted: 11 Dec 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Qualcomm? Broadcom? BeiDou? GNSS? smartphone?

China's BeiDou satellite navigation system has taken the competition between Qualcomm and Broadcom a notch higher as each released its respective positioning solutions aimed at mobile devices. Qualcomm has quite recently announced its support for the BeiDou constellation within its IZat location solutions. The company also revealed its collaboration with Samsung to launch the first wave of BeiDou-enhanced consumer smartphones. On the other hand, Broadcom has rolled out the BCM47531, a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) chip that generates positioning data from five satellite constellations simultaneously.

In addition to receiving signals from GPS in the U.S., GLONASS in Russia, QZSS in Japan, and SBAS, Broadcom has integrated additional frequency support and digital processing capability for China's BeiDou constellation.

Adding BeiDou is critical, Mohamed Awad, director of product marketing for mobile and wireless at Broadcom, told EE Times, for enhancing navigation accuracy within China and elsewhere, particularly in urban settings where buildings and other obstructions can affect performance.

Developing GNSS chips that support various nations' satellite constellations, including China's BeiDou, is not just about responding to regional preferences and pride, said Awad. More important, the addition of BeiDou helps consumers anywhere in the world acquire more accurate positioning information, whether in Paris or San Francisco.

BeiDou consists of two separate satellite constellations, a limited test system that has operated since 2000 and a full-scale global navigation system.

Its experimental system, also known as BeiDou-1, comprises three satellites, offering limited coverage and applications mainly for customers in China and neighboring regions.

The second-generation system, known as BeiDou-2, is still under construction. Upon its completion in 2020, a system of 35 satellites will begin serving global customers. Thus far, with 10 satellites in use, BeiDou-2 became operational in China in December 2011. It extended service to customers in the Asia/Pacific region late last year.

Broadcom hopes to set itself apart from its competitors by leveraging the company's unique GNSS chip architecture, which is capable of receiving signals from all major navigation bands simultaneously. The architecture allows the chip to do so without having to hop different navigation bands, or reconfigure itself for each constellation.

The tri-band tuner designed into Broadcom's architecture lets the chip calculate the best position data based on measurements from any of 88 satellites available in the sky. Further, it delivers satellite assistance data to the device and provides "an initial fix time within seconds, instead of the minutes that may be required to receive orbit data from the satellites themselves," according to Broadcom.

As Asia's share of global mobile phones continues to increase (and smartphone users' demands for location and mapping continue to rise), system vendors are in search of the best way to implement multi-constellation GNSS capabilities, including China's BeiDou.

They can do so either by adopting a standalone GNSS chip from companies such as Broadcom, or leveraging Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor, an apps processor already integrated with GPU, DSP, basebands, and Qualcomm's own GNSS location technology that combines multiple location services into a single navigation system.

Samsung's Galaxy Note 3, for example, has chosen the latter, according to Qualcomm.

Powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor (MSM8974), the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (WCDMA 3G version SM-N9006 and TD-LTE 4G version SM-N9008V) claims to use "the industry's first, integrated tri-band location platform to provide more accurate and responsive location data to mobile users," according to Qualcomm. It processes signals concurrently from multiple satellite networks. With this capability, users should have a better experience using their location-based services, even in the most challenging of environments, Qualcomm contends.

Broadcom, however, is betting that not every smartphone vendor wants to lock its mobile products into the same processor (i.e., Qualcomm's Snapdragon) its competitors are using.

"Customers can marry our GNSS chip with other chip vendors' mobile platform architecture," added Awad. "And they can use it not just for smartphones but also for a wide range of consumer devices" including wearables, personal media players and personal navigation systems.

Broadcom is sampling the BCM47531 now, while the chip will be designed into mobile devices in early 2014, according to the company.

- Junko Yoshida
??EE Times

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