Bluetooth 4.0 goes low-power for sensors

A new version of Bluetooth is targeting healthcare and fitness products that need minimal energy consumption rather than high speed

A new version of Bluetooth has been revealed by the industry group behind the wireless technology, which is targeting low-energy applications in the healthcare, fitness and security markets.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced the adoption of Bluetooth Core Specification Version 4.0 on Thursday. The new iteration follows the speed-centric version 3.0 of the Bluetooth specification by just 10 months, but the two versions are intended for different use cases.

"With today's announcement, the race is on for product designers to be the first to market," Bluetooth SIG chief Michael Foley said in a statement. "Bluetooth low-energy modules for all sorts of new products may now be qualified — this is an important step towards our goal of enabling new markets with Bluetooth wireless technology."

Foley added that the Continua Health Alliance has already selected the new Bluetooth version as a transport technology for the next version of its mobile health-device guidelines.

Bluetooth version 3.0 supports speeds of up to 24Mbps and is aimed at applications such as audio streaming and file transfers. Version 4.0 technically includes similar functionality in its specification, but is intended to support very short data packets of 8-27 bytes at a speed of 1Mbps — the sort of technology that is used by sensors to transmit bursts of information.

"For version 3.0, the main feature was utilising 802.11 [the Wi-Fi standard] to communicate at high speed," Bluetooth SIG's EMEA marketing director Anders Edlund told ZDNet UK. "Traditional Bluetooth is well known for headsets, transferring files between phones and so on. It uses very low power compared with Wi-Fi, but it's still not low enough to operate with a button cell battery or a sensor on a bicycle."

Edlund said Bluetooth version 4.0 is initially aimed at health and fitness applications. "A football or bicycle might have sensors for measuring speed or whatever," he said. "There may also be health applications where you have maybe [dementia sufferers] in the home carrying a wristband with a sensor, where you can't charge the battery every week, simply because people forget."

According to Edlund, it will be possible to combine Bluetooth versions 3.0 and 4.0 in devices such as mobile phones, where high data rates can be achieved if needed, but low-power functionality can be used for certain applications.

ST-Ericsson, the semiconductor-manufacturing joint venture between STMicro and Ericsson, announced on Thursday that its CG2900 wireless chip supports Bluetooth 4.0.

"Consumers will now be able to use their mobile phones to collect and display information from Bluetooth low-energy sensors and to link these devices to the internet for value-added applications such as remote healthcare and fitness monitoring," ST-Ericsson said in a statement. "Mobile phones thus become the hub of a varied ecosystem of coin-cell powered devices enabled by Bluetooth low-energy including watches, medical, sports, battery level, temperature, pressure, home and proximity sensors, and can also act as a controller for games, gadgets, consumer goods and home devices."

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