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Blue Sky squeezes GPS onto a SIM

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Just as we were predicting the end of SIM technological development, along comes a technology which really could be a killer application - a complete GPS system embedded inside one.

At the SIMposium in Berlin, Blue Sky Positioning announced it has developed a complete GPS system, including the antenna, which physically fits in, and works from within, a mobile phone SIM slot.

GPS receivers have been rapidly shrinking in recent years, but this marks a massive reduction in size as well as the technical feat of receiving GPS satellite signals from a space sandwiched between the phone battery and circuit board. It's A-GPS, so much of the processing is done off the SIM, using data sent over SMS or similar, but the technical challenges are still considerable.

BlueSky Positioning CEO Risto Savolainen said: "We are only allowed [by the GSM SIM standard] to draw six milliamps, which was a challenge."

One of many, it would seem. When it comes to picking up the GPS signal Blue Sky Positioning had a novel approach: "Most antennas are designed in free space, to have nothing around them. We started out knowing that there would be metal all around us. That's our secret - how the antenna works, but when we take away the battery, take the SIM out of the phone, the signal is no longer there."

The SIM is of standard size and shape, though wouldn't pass the full ISO tests for flexibility and robustness.

While we may be dismissive of increasing the memory on a SIM, or adding cryptography for banking, we can't ignore the potential of adding a GPS capability to any handset simply by replacing the SIM.

Very low-end handsets only display text menus from the SIM, so location-based services would be limited to applications such as asking for the location of the nearest pizza parlour and receiving a response over SMS.

Slightly more expensive handsets let the SIM trigger the handset browser with a specific URL. GPS on the SIM would enable it to request information from websites based on its current location.

Handsets supporting JSR177 (enabling Java applications to talk to the SIM), or those using open operating systems such as Windows Mobile and Symbian, could support the full mapping, location, and route-planning capabilities already familiar in dedicated GPS devices.

Blue Sky Positioning says it's already got prototypes and is working with SIM manufacturers to start production. It expects to have production samples by July, so we'll have to wait until then to find out the final utility and cost of the concept. But if it performs half as well as Blue Sky Positioning claims, it could well be the killer application we so badly failed to find in Prague. ®

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