SiRF Technology Inc. (A CSR plc company)
From GPS to portable location awareness – How is SiRF trying to create this awareness and what is it looking to provide within this?
The focus so far has been just getting the core voice capability into the market and it is only now that data services are starting to become part of the platform. Once that happens, location and navigation will take off much quicker. In general, the Indian market is very slow to take off and then one event suddenly propels it. This situation was witnessed in mobile phones. India was far behind a few years back but now is the second largest user of mobile phones with the highest growth, and it is not that only the cheapest phones are popular. Location is going to go the same way. In India, people lose their way very often, so having the location capability linked to the map capability is going to be very good usage proposition for consumers. In general, Asians are more social networking oriented. The consumer profile for location usage in India is more aggressive than in the Western world. So it is just a question of getting a few early hiccups out of the way. We are working with operators and handset providers on making location an affordable entry point. Even phones without GPS will have the basic location capability, with high-end handsets having better accuracy. Once the mapping infrastructure is in place and platform-based location capabilities are available, there will be lot more content and applications. The whole concept is that we are always location aware just like we are time aware, so we know approximately what time it is and approximately what location it is. In lots of applications that is good enough. Time is changing at a fixed interval, and depending on the application, location is changing all the time because even if one is in the office and is moving, location is changing. There are going to be certain applications that are going to be based on indoor location. For a specific purpose users use location and then they start looking at other applications where the concept of location awareness is inherent, like social networking where one’s acquaintances might know or may want to know where they are. In the long run, they would want to have an almost seamless experience where their location is actually adding a context to a number of things they do.
Technology convergence is the norm of the day. What in your view will be the driving factors for LBS vis-à-vis technology convergence?
There is one fundamental shift happening. Location used to be linked to navigation and outdoor usage. Now, as users move towards more and more applications where they share location information, convergence between connectivity and location becomes more important. Also, we are moving away from an environment where the content is resident in the device itself to an environment where content in many cases is on the cloud. In some cases, real time information has to be combined with static information. So there is a clear link between connectivity (including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or cellular network) and location. The other thing is convergence at platform level. Of late, a smart phone can run a number of applications and a mobile Internet device can fit into the pocket. Convergence at the platform level drives how people start using location into all these devices.
But we see that indoor navigation is still a challenge.
In the last 12-18 months, the market actually has moved in spite of economic downturn and has moved at a more rapid pace in accepting location. There are services, but one part of that whole equation that as one starts moving from navigation being a location application, in many cases navigation may not be used at all. Lots of applications assume that location is available all the time and everywhere. And that everywhere includes indoor. Most of the time, social networking and search are indoor location applications. Security, workforce management, enterprise logistics can be indoor or outdoor. The challenge is to make sure that location is reliably available in all the environments in reasonable quick time and that is where we have to start thinking beyond GPS or any other GNSS. One has to have a platform with good quality of service for both indoor and outdoor locations and this is where a combination of radio and sensor technologies comes into place.
In many cases, lot of mobile phones, entry level devices may not even have GPS but we still want to give them a certain level of location, slightly inaccurate but reasonably approximate location. Once people start using it, they will realise the need for more accurate location and can upgrade to GPS. So it is important to make location affordable for everybody.
There seems to be a proliferation of GNSS systems. Do you foresee this to give a boost to location enabled applications? If so, how?
At a certain stage, a critical point of infrastructure is reached where there is both a regulatory drive as well as pull from consumer for any particular application. This was earlier witnessed in communication network. Now, GPS has a reasonable footprint, but in most of the urban areas, there are not enough satellites visible. Combining GPS with GLONASS or Galileo will see many more satellites, leading to a reasonable coverage in most of the obstructed environments. Another issue here is that GPS was a US system and many countries are not comfortable linking their critical infrastructure and critical applications through the US network. These concerns can be taken care of with multi- dimensional satellite networks. Also, having more than one network also enables more competitive environment and faster infrastructure improvement. A combination of these three elements – better quality of service, more competition and less dependence on one particular network – will create a greater explosion of those applications.
How has the merger with CSR helped to position SiRF?
Three important factors drove this merger. Both SiRF and CSR saw a convergence between location and connectivity. SiRF’s strength is on the location side, while CSR’s is on the connectivity side. Both realised that it is difficult to catch up to the leaders once the market has reached a certain stage and it was better to combine the two leaders rather than have leadership in one and catch up on the other technology. Secondly, lots of our customers are looking for one vendor to provide multiple technologies. With the merger, we have a broad portfolio of technologies. The third reason is scale. In a market which we believe has huge opportunities to grow, scale becomes important.