Broadcom Unveils Global Location Chip for Wearables

The company's GNSS SoC will offer users of fitness trackers and other wearable devices more precise data around distance and speed.

Broadcom is readying a chip with global location capabilities that will give people with wearable devices like fitness trackers and smartwatches more accurate activity and location results.

Broadcom officials on Feb. 20 announced what they said is the industry's first Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) chip, which they will put on display at the Mobile World Congress 2014 show starting Feb. 24 in Barcelona, Spain.

The BCM4771 GNSS system-on-a-chip (SoC), based on the ARM chip architecture, will bring more precise data—such as speed, distance and location—to the growing number of smartwatches and wearable fitness and activity devices hitting the market. The SoC will also bring higher levels of power efficiency than other chip architectures, essentially consuming 75 percent less power than existing GNSS solutions, company officials said.

"Today's wearables like fitness trackers have surged in popularity, but often miscalculate speed and distance," Mohamed Awad, director of marketing for Broadcom's Mobile and Wireless Group, said in a statement. "As the largest supplier of discrete GNSS solutions, Broadcom brings its location expertise to deliver more precise fitness and health measurements to the accelerating wearable market."

The market for wearable devices—from smartwatches to fitness trackers to smart headsets like Google Glass—is expected to grow rapidly, contributing the burgeoning Internet of things trend. Analysts with Berg Insight in October 2013 said 8.3 million devices were shipped in 2012 and that the number should hit 64 million units in 2017.

"A perfect storm of innovation within low power wireless connectivity, sensor technology, big data, cloud services, voice user interfaces and mobile computing power is coming together and paves the way for connected wearable technology," Johan Svanberg, senior analyst at Berg Insight, said in a statement at the time the report was released.

Driving the current interest in wearable devices are health and fitness devices, according to ABI Research analysts. In a report earlier this month, the analysts said they expect the GPS-enabled fitness market to reach $2.6 billion in 2018. That is where Broadcom's BCM4771 SoC is aimed, with the idea that users are going to want more accurate data as they manage their health and fitness. The 40-nanometer SoC, which will be sampling by the end of the quarter, includes an integrated sensor hub that uses inputs from sensors to detect what's going on with the user, from the speed they're moving to the distance they've traveled, officials said.

Wearable computing is getting a lot of vendor attention, from vendors like Samsung and Qualcomm that are making the devices to Intel (with its new Quark chip family) and ARM that are pushing components for the systems. Broadcom also is building out its efforts.

The company in December 2013 rolled out a new chip for its Internet of things platform—Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices (WICED)—designed for wearable devices. BCM20736 SoC is integrated with an ARM Cortex M3 application processor with a CM3 microcontroller unit and supports A4WP wireless charging.