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HANDSET MAKERS SET TO RIDE GPS TECHNOLOGY WAVE WITH SIRF

NEW YORK-Sirf Technology Inc., a Santa Clara, Calif., company established in 1995, announced agreements last week with Ericsson Inc., Hitachi America Ltd. and Nokia Corp. designed to propel the use of global positioning system technology in wireless devices, including cellular phones.

“Sirf’s objective has always been to help drive GPS-based location into four mainstream consumer platforms: personal computers, wireless handsets, automobiles and consumer electronics,” said Kanwar Chadha, founder and vice president of Sirf.

“We are seeing strong demand from telecommunications suppliers to be ready in time for the [Federal Communications Commission’s Enhanced] 911 deadline at the end of … 2001.”

The FCC’s E911 mandate requires cellular carriers to locate automatically within 400 feet their customers who are making emergency calls.

The U.S. government operates the GPS constellation of 21 satellites, which transmit a constant signal accessible to any location device dialed into its frequency.

Ericsson and Nokia have selected Sirf’s GPS technology for use in their wireless consumer platforms, Sirf said. Nokia also made a $3 million investment in Sirf and gained an observer seat on Sirf’s board of directors.

“We are especially pleased that wireless market leader Nokia has confidence in our technology and has committed financially to our company,” Chadha said.

Ericsson said it has agreed to license Sirf’s GPS technology for use in a variety of wireless handheld devices it hopes to begin making available commercially as early as 2000.

“Although E911 may be solved by Sirf’s GPS, we see it as the best software solution to providing a convergence device that can do things by remote control,” said Daryl S. Toor, director of public relations for Ericsson Mobile Phones and Terminals, Research Triangle Park, N.C.

“No one has really addressed yet how the product will be used in the phone. We are saying we will do it first.”

Chadha said Sirf’s GPS technology also will allow location intelligence to be built into databases. This would permit a mobile worker to download selectively only those company information updates that apply to his or her specific job. Stolen equipment could be tracked and deactivated if moved beyond a specified territory.

Customers of Internet service providers could find local access numbers using location as a search criterion. Likewise, callers could find the nearest hospitals, hotels, restaurants and other desired facilities.

Hitachi Semiconductor Inc., a subsidiary of Hitachi America, has entered “joint marketing activities [and] reference-design work,” Sirf said.

“Specifically, Sirf will utilize and recommend Hitachi’s SH RISC microprocessors for the SiRFstarI/LX architecture-based GPS and GPS smart antenna reference designs.”

The Hitachi-Sirf partnership already has produced “the world’s smallest commercially available GPS module, manufactured by u-blox ag, Switzerland.”

The GPS module is smaller than a quarter and therefore makes possible “development of small form-factor, location-aware consumer devices,” Sirf said.

The SiRFstarI/LX product line is a chipset and software package introduced in October 1997 that employs patented and patent-pending technologies to solve the problem of GPS signal reception interference caused by foliage, urban canyons and other obstacles. Foliage Lock is the company brand name for its tracking system, which is engineered to pick up at 10 percent of their strength the GPS’ inherently weak signals.

Sirf’s TricklePower mode technology reduces GPS power consumption by a factor of 10 times to 15 times compared with traditional GPS architectures, the company said. Large power requirements for conventional GPS receivers, in use today in industrial applications like precision agriculture and freight rail and trucking, have deterred the use of GPS technology in consumer electronics.

“Earlier this year, Sirf announced a relationship with Intel (Corp.) … based on the WinSiRF GPS architecture that will bring high-performance GPS to the [personal computer-based) automobile computing platform,” Sirf said.

There also is speculation that at least two makers of handheld computers are looking into the use of GPS in their products, according to published reports.

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