LONDON Parthus Technologies plc, an emerging intellectual property company, has designed a global-positioning satellite (GPS) chip set that it claims is the world's most accurate and least power consuming. The company also announced that ARM Holdings plc, a long-time partner and a minority investor in Parthus, has licensed the technology.
The NavStream platform, including a SiGe RF chip and digital baseband circuitry designed to work with an ARM7 processor, has been aimed at mobile telephony and automotive navigation applications. An alternative, 0.18-micron CMOS multimode design that combines GPS and Bluetooth RF and digital baseband functions intended for lowest-cost single-chip applications is due to be completed by the third quarter of 2001.
Parthus (Dublin, Ireland) said one application for such a single-chip all-CMOS GPS could be inclusion in children's wristwatches. The company said it is also working on technology to extend NavStream's ability to work with reflected satellite signals, thereby extending GPS to in-building use.
Parthus claims NavStream can already be used to locate equipment to within 5 meters, and a three-chip multichip module version that Parthus has running consumes just 35 mW when operating. This compares well with the "less than 50-mW" power consumption recently claimed by Trimble Navigation Ltd. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) for its FirstGPS chip set.
Under a licensing agreement, ARM (Cambridge, England) is set to combine the NavStream technology with its own processor cores and sub-license the technology to its semiconductor partners and customers who can then supply it to systems companies.
ARM processor cores are currently the dominant choice in mobile telephone handsets, so ARM sub-licensing could prove to be a way for GPS technology in mobile phones to help fulfill the United States' E911 requirements. Under the Federal Communications Commission's E911 directive, by October 1, 2001, U.S. wireless carriers must, for at least two-thirds of the time, be able to automatically pinpoint for authorities the location of 911 calls made from cell phones to within 50 or 100 meters.
The NavStream platform has been designed to be air interface-independent and can be deployed with both current GSM and CDMA designs and future wideband-CDMA air interfaces being introduced in third-generation systems.
"GPS is a cornerstone technology of next generation mobile Internet, and our goal is to make NavStream the dominant GPS standard for the mobile Internet industry," said Kevin Fielding, chief operating officer of Parthus Technologies. "The NavStream platform leads the industry in the four critical areas for implementing GPS in mobile phones low cost, low power consumption, pinpoint accuracy and noise immunity. The successful launch of the NavStream platform is a powerful endorsement of the success of our acquisition and integration of the GPS division of Symmetricom."
Parthus acquired the GPS division of Symmetricom Inc. (Milpitas, Calif.), based in Northampton, England, in the first quarter of this year. Fielding said, "The GPS division of Symmetricom was previously NavStar. NavStream really represents the sixth generation of their technology."
Fielding said that RF power consumption was one of the keys to reducing overall power consumption. "We have implemented [in SiGe] with Maxim and Temic. But the idea is we are a licensing company; we want to make the designs as portable as possible."
Besides the radio and baseband designs, the NavStream platform includes software stacks targeted at mobile phone and automotive markets. The code size of the protocol stack is less than 64 kbytes.
NavStream is deployable either as a GPS radio chip with the GPS baseband circuitry integrated into a host processor, or in a multimode GPS-cum-Bluetooth radio and integrated baseband.
Parthus claims that the 0.18-micron CMOS version of the radio, due in the third quarter of 2001, delivers the lowest cost for implementing GPS in wireless handsets. Parthus reckons it will cost under $4.
The NavStream baseband is compliant with ARM's AMBA on-chip bus and enables the user to select the number of GPS correlators in use.
Extending GPS correlators speeds up the first fix of a location, the company said, and NavStream supports up to 16 correlation calculations in parallel.
The NavStream platform also includes protocol stacks for tracking, navigation and accuracy and will include a Parthus-developed DSP that further accelerates time to first fix, particularly in challenging environments such as inside buildings.
Although GPS is generally considered to be a line-of-sight technology and therefore non-operable where too few satellites can be seen directly, Fielding said the GPS division of Symmetricom had spent the previous two years working with the Department of Defense on extending the technology for in-building use.
Fielding said Parthus already has licensees for NavStream in both telecommunications and automotive navigation applications.
Brian Long, Parthus' chief executive officer, said, "ARM is the undisputed leader in designing and licensing microprocessors to the mobile phone market, and we are extremely pleased to extend our existing technical and equity partnership with this licensing agreement for our GPS technology. This technology enables wireless operators to offer location-based services that are seen as killer applications for the rapidly emerging m-commerce market such as real-time maps, pinpointing nearest restaurants or banks and locating people."
Robin Saxby, chairman, president and chief executive officer of ARM Holdings, added, "This agreement with Parthus will enable us to build upon our already strong presence in the wireless market, introducing a new level of innovation while reinforcing ARM's role as the architecture of choice for the digital world."