Market Insight

As contextual experiences take up center stage on the smartphone, Broadcom announces high accuracy, low power positioning chip

October 05, 2017

Gerrit Schneemann Gerrit Schneemann Senior Analyst, Smartphones

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Broadcom has released the BCM47755 dual frequency GNSS receiver for smartphones, tablets and wearable devices. The chip promises higher location accuracy combined with lower power consumption. If the company’s claims can be validated in real-world usage and Broadcom can gain design wins with hardware makers, contextually aware mobile user experiences will improve significantly.

Key features

  • Dual frequency GNSS receiver
  • Low power dual-core ARM CM4-CM0 sensor hub
  • Centimeter accuracy, even in challenging environments

The new chip is able to compute its position based on two frequencies, instead of one, from positioning satellites – helping accuracy and eliminating “dead spots” in urban canyons, for example.

Our analysis

A key trend in the smartphone market is towards AI-enabled devices, which promise a more personalized user experience: Apple, Samsung, Google, Huawei and others are all investing in the space and are beginning to integrate solutions based on the technology in their latest devices.

While on-device AI is critical to adjust how a handset responds to user habits, these capabilities do not exist in a vacuum. Google just highlighted Google Lens during the launch of its latest handsets – enabling search via images. Samsung has Bixby Vision, a similar system of identifying content in an image. To achieve accurate results in this use case, and others like it, accurate location information is critical.

Another user experience in need of highly accurate location information is related to ride-hailing applications. More accurate information from the driver and rider will improve the pick-up process, and makes it easier to find the right car or rider. Additionally, service platforms can further optimize their routing when the platform can rely on more detailed information to establish optimal routes.

Beyond applications which utilize location information directly, such as the example above, other applications and services can also benefit from increased location accuracy and help create higher returns on investments. For example, mobile advertising campaigns and engagement tools relying on geo-fences can now target audiences more accurately – increasing the likelihood of a positive interaction.

Location technology support

According to the IHS Markit Active Installed data base, 61.4% of handsets in use worldwide support A-GPS, GLONASS and GPS on one device. Furthermore, 8.5% of devices support the combination of A-GPS, BeiDou, GLONASS and GPS.  The vast majority of handsets has some type of satellite location support on board. Additionally, WiFi is now supported across all price segments in the smartphone space which adds another possible location technology to the mix.

But, WiFi localization systems, along with other technologies like Bluetooth beacons and others, are not available as ubiquitously as satellite-based systems. Meaning: location coverage indoors continues to lag behind the ecosystem for outdoor positioning. Broadcom’s new chip will not be able to address indoor positioning problems but should enhance user experiences outdoors.

Power saving options are always welcome

Broadcom’s promise that its new chip will be less costly against the power management budget should be a welcome development for handset makers. Slim all-display handset form factors, featuring high-end displays with advanced technologies like HDR, are testing battery life endurance. Adding graphics intensive apps which integrate AR, for example, will push devices further.

Therefore, Broadcom is approaching the market at the right time with their new chip. The combination of improved performance and improved battery makes the chip more attractive than a chip promising either advantage separately. 

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