The biggest uncertainty for CSR, then, is indoor GPS technology. During the interview, Van Beurden made it clear that only “a subset” of CSR’s GPS teams – about 40 engineers – focused on “plain vanilla GPS” are going to Samsung. Meanwhile, the rest of the team will stay with CSR. Samsung, despite free access to CSR’s GPS technology, can’t have CSR’s indoor GPS IPs. Van Beurden said, “We, at CSR, intend to sell our own chips, and make money.”
Although he stopped short of calling it a crown jewel, the CSR CEO described the indoor GPS technology as “an area of phenomenal opportunity” for CSR.
Google, for example, is hard at work in creating indoor maps of public buildings. Indoor maps of airports, museums, department stores, shopping malls, hotels and others are currently available in selected locations in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada, the U.S., and Japan, according to Google. Many view indoor GPS as the next hot battleground for mobile handsets.
CSR has developed a method for accurate indoor positioning, by merging a number of existing technologies. To assist indoor GPS, CSR designed a back-end network server, featuring self-learning databases. The server collects signals from satellites, cell towers, Wi-Fi nets, sensors and other radios. Although CSR’s indoor GPS technology has been demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show and World Mobile Congress, the company has not rolled out its chip as a commercial product. The CEO said, “We expect this chip to start generating revenue in 2013.”
brought indoor mapping to CES this year. Does GPS in your phone track your location inside a
building? Above, a handset with CSR’s new GPS chip (left) shows which booth you’re visiting, while an
iPhone (right) only shows a street map of LVCC building.
CSR’s strategy plans to sell indoor GPS features as standalone chips to handset OEMs. But wait. Won’t indoor GPS also eventually get gobbled up in combo chips for handsets in the future?
Not any time soon, said Van Beurden. Sure, WiFi/Bluetooth/FM radio combo chips are common and popular, but curiously enough, the demand for the wireless connectivity chip that also includes GPS has been “spectacularly limited,” he observed. This is because “your combo chip is only as good as your weakest link.”
Demand for standalone GPS chips
Jagdish Rebello, IHS iSuppli director for consumer and communications, explained: “The one deterrent to this integration strategy is the difference in the pace of evolution of the two standards.” Wi-Fi keeps reinventing itself and transitioning to new variations of 802.11. Combo chips need to keep up with that progress. Meanwhile, companies like Qualcomm are now offering GPS in baseband, rendering GPS in the combo chip redundant. “There is a case to be made to keep WLAN/BT/FM separate from the GPS,” said Rebello.
IHS iSuppli estimates the shipment of WLAN/Bluetooth/FM radio combo chips – on unit bases – in 2012 to be 290k units, with WLAN/Bluetooth/FM radio/GPS combo chips at only about 8K units. Meanwhile, during the same period, standalone GPS chips are expected to ship about 330k, while baseband integrated with GPS will ship about 370K units. IHS iSuppli forecasts that the standalone GPS chips to continue to grow to 612K units in 2016.
Potential indoor GPS market
How long before the indoor GPS market is big enough for CSR to breathe easy? Well, as they say, don’t hold your breath.
Calling indoor GPS “sort of a nebulous term,” IHS iSuppli’s Rebello explained that many companies, including CSR, are looking at ways to augment the GPS signal in indoor environments with data from pressure sensors, mapping of Wi-Fi routers, etc. to provide location-based data and services in indoor environments. Rebello cautioned: “The applications for this right now are in their infancy. These are still in limited trials.”
ABI Research last May also cautioned that precision indoor location is stealing the headlines, yet wide-area alternative/hybrid location is where the money is today.
ABI’s senior analyst Patrick Connolly wrote in his research note: “Increasingly, tablet, camera, and portable gaming vendors are using location to differentiate and support additional services and revenue models. Others, like the femtocell market, are driven by mandates. To illustrate the potential, the non-cellular handset market is set to reach over one billion devices by 2017.”
What about the indoor location market?
ABI’s Practice director Dominique Bonte said, “The precision indoor market is almost a separate entity in itself, with some 30 companies offering a variety of technologies. By working directly with retailers, these technologies will empower them to own their own maps, data, and advertising, enabling them to own the customer and compete with Google, etc.”
So, expect a lot more turbulence before anyone makes a killing in the indoor GPS market.
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