Broadcom, Skyhook join for better location data

Broadcom will enhance its mobile device chipsets and location-based services (LBS) infrastructure through a partnership with Skyhook Wireless, the company that powers the iPhone's location feature using Wi-Fi access points.

In addition to being a major vendor of communications chips, Broadcom also operates an international infrastructure for location-based services that uses information from GPS (Global Positioning System) to determine where a mobile device is. Skyhook's technology can use signals from Wi-Fi hot spots, as well as cellular base stations and GPS, to do the same thing.

Broadcom will integrate Skyhook's capabilities into its chipsets and its LBS infrastructure, the companies said Tuesday. This will give makers of mobile phones, personal navigation devices and other products a single, integrated hybrid positioning system that can take advantage of GPS, Wi-Fi and cellular base stations, they said.

GPS, which relies on satellites, has a wide coverage area but doesn't work well indoors or in urban settings where there are buildings blocking signals from satellites. Skyhook's Wi-Fi Positioning System can analyze signals from nearby private and public Wi-Fi access points and compare them against a database of geographical points to determine location.

LBS is becoming one of the brightest spots in mobile data as consumers take advantage of the ability to find businesses and even friends nearby, according to industry executives. Skyhook Founder Ted Morgan told the Mobilize conference in mid-September that the company's service had received "billions" of location requests from users and that this volume had spiked up in the previous three months. The GPS-equipped iPhone 3G went on sale in July. The location-enabled version of Google Maps for Mobile, which has been available on the iPhone since earlier this year, gets twice as much use as the previous version, according to Steve Lee, a Google project manager who spoke at the same conference.

Broadcom's LBS system formed the basis of the first nationwide E911 emergency location system in the U.S. in 2002 and today serves more than 20 million active customers in more than 170 countries, according to the company.

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