GPS chip vendor SiRF acquires Bluetooth company

Company bags Bangalore software firm in move to add wireless connectivity to its GPS chips

SiRF Technology Holdings Inc., a vendor of chips and software for GPS (global positioning system) applications, announced Thursday that it has acquired Impulsesoft Pvt. Ltd., a Bluetooth-embedded software company in Bangalore, for US$15 million in cash and stock.

The acquisition is in line with SiRF's strategy to add wireless connectivity and other functions to the GPS chips that it sells to mobile phone, automotive, mobile computing and embedded markets, said Kanwar Chadha, SiRF's founder and vice president of marketing.

SiRF of San Jose, California, also introduced its SiRFLinkI, a chip that combines GPS and Bluetooth capabilities. The chip uses a Bluetooth software stack from Impulsesoft, and a Bluetooth radio from Kisel Microelectronics AB, a Swedish company SiRF acquired last year that specializes in RF (radio frequency) integrated circuit design. The first products based on the SiRFLinkI chip are expected by the end of this year, according to Chadha.

"We found that mobile phones and some other devices that were shipping with our GPS chips also had Bluetooth, and it made sense to provide a lower cost, lower power, and size-optimized alternative to having two separate systems," Chadha said.

Bluetooth will also help connect various devices that use GPS. For example, information on the car navigation system can be updated with real-time information like traffic information from a mobile phone. Chadha said.

SiRF's overall strategy is to integrate into its GPS chips some of the functions that are currently available on mobile devices, but often require separate chips. "Multiple radios are going to be a very critical part of what we are doing," Chadha said. Kisel has designed a variety of radios, including those for Wi-Fi, WiMax, and Bluetooth wireless standards, he added.

SiRF started operations in 1995 with the aim to take GPS to mass markets by decreasing the cost of the technology, power consumption and device size. The company's GPS technology currently goes into a variety of devices including a child locator, which is a mobile phone for children that helps parents locate them. The company's chips are made by third-party fabs.

In calendar 2004, SiRF's revenue was $117.4 million, up by 61 percent from $73.1 million in the previous year. The company had a gross margin in 2004 of about 55 percent. "In the last three years, the growth in the market for GPS-enabled devices has been very fast," Chadha said.

With the Impulsesoft acquisition, SiRF gets 55 staff experienced in embedded software development.

SiRF already has a VLSI (very large scale integration) design group, and a support center for equipment makers in Noida near Delhi. The baseband for the SiRFLinkI, for example, was designed at the company's facility in Noida.

The company also plans to do research with Indian educational institutions on the Galileo satellite radio navigation system promoted by the European Union and the European Space Agency.

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