Motorola: New chip will bring GPS to all

The company is unveiling a global positioning system chip it says is the first GPS device small enough and cheap enough for practical use in gadgets such as cell phones and notebooks.

Motorola is unveiling a global positioning system chip it says is the first GPS satellite sensor small enough and hence cheap enough for practical use in consumer-electronics devices such as cell phones and notebook computers.

The Instant GPS chip will give users of such devices the ability to tap into a satellite system and pinpoint their geographic location. Measuring only 49 square millimeters, or less than half the area of a Pentium 4 processor, the chip will sell for roughly $10 in volume quantities, said Tim McCarthy, business director for GPS at Motorola's Automotive Group's Telematics Division. That should let device makers add GPS for about a quarter of the cost of current multiple chipsets, which run about $40.

"All of a sudden, starting 10 or 15 years ago, every electronics device had a clock," McCarthy said. "I see position awareness going down that same path. It's just a question of how long it takes."

Cellular phones with Enhanced 911 will likely be the first devices to adopt the Instant GPS chip, which Motorola is set to announce Tuesday. The chip could also be built into PDAs or laptop computers to aid in reading maps, and it could be used in walkie-talkies to provide an extra margin of safety for outdoor activities such as skiing.

"There are a lot of PDAs and notebooks in vertical applications, such as hospitals or tracking inventory, and there's a need to know the location of those terminals," said Allen Noge, senior analyst at In-Stat/MDR.

"If it's an electronics device that moves around, there's some benefit to being able to determine your location," McCarthy said.

Motorola is hoping the chip's characteristics, including a low price, thrifty power consumption and ease of integration, will help it become omnipresent.

The company will begin offering small sample quantities of the Instant GPS chip to early customers in November. The first products to use the new chip should appear during the third quarter of next year.

A boon for Big Blue
Although Motorola has its own large semiconductor division, the Motorola Automotive Group chose to contract with IBM to manufacture the new chip using Big Blue's Silicon Germanium chipmaking process. Silicon germanium, or SiGe, technology can boost performance and reduce the power consumption of chips that go into cellular phones and other wireless devices.

Getting the contract for the new GPS chip is a victory of sorts for IBM, which recently mounted a new effort to expand its manufacturing services for other chipmakers.

Looking for ways to increase revenue from its chip business following the industrywide slump in 2001, Big Blue established a new foundry program last June that lets customers access its full range of chip technology as well as its chip-manufacturing and design experts.

If the Instant GPS chip should become a hit, IBM stands to gain revenue from manufacturing large numbers of the chip as well as from the work it did with Motorola to help design the chip and bring it to market.

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