Now this is interesting. In an incredibly bold move that has all the makings of a gauntlet, Nokia, a company known for including Bluetooth support in its handsets, has released what appears to be a Bluetooth substitute that it's calling WiBree. According to a Reuters story that we're carrying on ZDNet's News channel (subscribe), Wibree won't interfere with Bluetooth-based wireless networks:
Mobile phone market leader Nokia unveiled a new short-range wireless [technology] that is smaller and more energy-efficient than current Bluetooth technology and can be used in devices such as watches.....The new radio technology, dubbed "Wibree," can work alongside Bluetooth short-range wireless connections but use just a fraction of the power....."It's up to 10 times more energy efficient than Bluetooth," [said] Bob Iannucci, head of Nokia Research Center.
So fresh is the announcement (off the presses) that, as of the time I was writing this post, a Google search on "Wibree Nokia" turned up no links. Notta (but I can't help but wonder if there's some relationship to ZigBee). Although the Reuters story doesn't come right out and say it, it seems pretty clear to me that Nokia must see this as a substitute for Bluetooth. In addition to the cellular radios (either CDMA or GSM [sic]) and Bluetooth radios that many handsets already have (not to mention the InfraRed port on some devices), today's wireless handsets and smartphones can hardly tolerate yet another radio, drawing upon the already limited resources of their batteries. More evidence lurks in the Reuters piece. Apparently, Nokia isn't going to waste any time driving this into the market as a standard:
"Our aim is to establish an industry standard faster than ever before by offering an interoperable solution that can be commercialized and incorporated into products as quickly as possible," Iannucci said.
A standard that, should it get adopted, could result in a new and lucrative royalty-based revenue stream for Nokia. According to the story, Nokia plans to license the technology on reasonable and non-discriminating terms (otherwise known as "RAND" licensing). Given Nokia's presence in the handset market, it certainly has the size and might to introduce a new short-range wireless technology, perhaps ripping the rug out from under Bluetooth.
Sure, Nokia's competitors could try to boycott Wibree in hopes of undermining the cell phone giant. But, if the solution truly represents a breakthrough that ameliorates the downsides of Bluetooth, the technology might be hard to resist. Not only that, their hand could be forced should Nokia start to eschew Bluetooth in favor of Wibree in its handsets. If for example, Nokia's handsets start interoperating with other consumer devices (like wristwatches) that Bluetooth has yet to find its way into (thereby forming a vibrant Wibree ecosystem), Nokia's competitors could be left with that "if you can't be 'em, join em" choice. Because of the constraints on battery life, going with that choice could force them to dump Bluetooth.
Wow Nokia. Game face on.