Broadcom Combines GPS and Wi-Fi for Location

Today Broadcom (s BRCM) said it will add Wi-Fi-enabled geolocation sensing to its portfolio of GPS chips, which use satellites to determine where a device is. The move expands Broadcom’s location-based services portfolio and highlights the importance of location-tracking as a feature on phones, laptops and other consumer devices. Broadcom will license the Wi-Fi location technology from Boston-based Skyhook Wireless.

Skyhook also has a deal with GPS chipmakers SiRF and CSR and even provided location through Wi-Fi on the first generation iPhone, which did not contain a GPS chip. Adding Wi-Fi to its chips gives Broadcom a backup option when GPS won’t work. Satellite signals don’t always penetrate buildings or urban areas, making it challenging to get an accurate location. Skyhook’s Wi-Fi positioning technology uses a database of registered Wi-Fi networks to triangulate a person’s position. Since Wi-Fi is often used indoors and in urban areas, the two technologies work well together.

With integrated Wi-Fi-location and GPS on a chip Broadcom can offer device makers better location detection. It also means any device wanting to take advantage of the hybrid technology will need a Wi-Fi chip, which Broadcom will happily sell. Consumers would benefit too as it could mean more Wi-Fi enabled phones.