Bluetooth gets high-speed boost

The technology's special interest group chooses WiMedia Alliance's ultrawideband technology for high-speed Bluetooth.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) will combine WiMedia Alliance's ultra-wideband (UWB) with its next-generation Bluetooth wireless technology.

According to Michael Foley, executive director of Bluetooth SIG, the integration effort will allow developers to create a version of the popular wireless technology with higher data rates.

The Bluetooth SIG is targeting to release new specifications, with UWB integration, in the first quarter of 2007.

This next-generation Bluetooth technology will be able to handle data transfer and synchronization in large volumes, as well as support high-quality video and audio applications for portable devices, multimedia projectors and TVs.

At the same time, Bluetooth will continue to be backward compatible, catering to the needs of low power devices such as mice, keyboards and headsets.

Current Bluetooth devices can only transmit data files at speeds of up to 3Mbps, and over distances from 10 to 100 meters. UWB-enhanced Bluetooth is tipped to reach transfer rates of up to 200Mbps.

The Bluetooth SIG said it is critical that UWB technology is compatible with Bluetooth radios and maintain the core characteristics of Bluetooth wireless technology--low power, low cost, ad-hoc networking, and integration into mobile devices.

The industry group, which has members such as Motorola and Nokia, said it is satisfied that WiMedia Alliance's UWB technology can fulfill all those requirements.

Foley said the Bluetooth SIG has considered all available UWB technology choices, and "the decision ultimately came down to what our members want, which is to leverage their current investments in both UWB and Bluetooth technologies, and meet the high-speed demands of their customers."

"By working closely with the WiMedia Alliance to create the next version of Bluetooth technology, we will enable our members to do just that," he said.

One of the key components in the agreement between the Bluetooth SIG and the WiMedia Alliance is a common goal to help UWB achieve global regulatory acceptance.

Both parties have agreed to develop a high-speed, high-data rate Bluetooth product that rides on the unlicensed radio spectrum above 6GHz. This move answers concerns voiced by regulatory bodies in both Europe and Asia, the Bluetooth SIG said.

3G operators have pushed for tighter controls over UWB, claiming that their mobile networks could be disrupted by UWB, which operates over a wide range of frequency bands.

Foley also noted that the Bluetooth SIG will attempt to reuse existing Bluetooth profiles as far as possible for certain applications, for example, when large files are transferred between devices. Profiles are needed by Bluetooth devices to establish usage scenarios, such as image printing and wireless headset connections.

"For video [applications], we have existing video profiles, but we are going to review those to see if modifications need to be made to take advantage of ultrawideband technology," he explained.

Foley acknowledged that new high-speed Bluetooth radios will be more expensive than existing ones. "I would expect their initial cost to be more in line with what Bluetooth radios cost three to four years ago," he said. "But one of our goals is to also drive cost down through volumes and integration, over time."

Bluetooth chip prices have been falling to between US$2 and US$2.50, thanks to a high number of European cellphones equipped with Bluetooth, Foley said last May.

Analyst Gartner projects that Bluetooth penetration in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, will reach 19.8 percent in 2006 and hit 46.5 percent in 2009.

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