Bluetooth shatters milestone as new standard debuts

A new Bluetooth specification improves the wireless technology's ease of use and connection quality, while shipments continue their ascent

Bluetooth, the short-range wireless technology, has passed another landmark in its goal of becoming ubiquitous.

Amid continued criticism of its usefulness, total Bluetooth shipments for the first time surpassed one million units per week in the third quarter of this year, according to IMS Research's Bluetooth semiconductor tracking service.

Meanwhile, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), the industry body which looks after the technology, has officially adopted a new standard that adds user-friendly features and improves connection quality.

Bluetooth has been surrounded by controversy since Ericsson created it with the aim of eliminating the wires that connect PCs, mobile phones, PDAs, computer peripherals and other devices. Critics say that despite the rapid growth in Bluetooth shipments, the technology is of limited usefulness because it is too hard to set up.

In response, the SIG launched its "Five Minute Ready" programme last December, with the goal of ensuring consumers can use Bluetooth devices within five minutes of taking them out of the box. The Bluetooth 1.2 specification, which the SIG adopted on Wednesday, includes features to speed up connection setup.

Another important improvement is the addition of adaptive frequency hopping (AFH), which is designed to reduce interference with other devices that use the same 2.4GHz wireless spectrum -- including some cordless phones and increasingly-popular Wi-Fi networks. Frequency hopping allows Bluetooth to find parts of the spectrum not being used by other devices, improving performance.

The specification also uses new error-detection methods to improve the quality of voice connections, which is important for Bluetooth headsets.

The specification is backward-compatible with all devices using Bluetooth 1.1, the most widespread version of the technology.

Silicon vendors RF Micro Devices and SiliconWave have announced a single-chip Bluetooth 1.2 circuit design called UltimateBlue, which is designed to help hardware designers implement the new technology. The chip, manufactured using the low-cost CMOS process, includes adaptive frequency hopping and other 1.2 features, and is based on a 32-bit ARM7TDMI processor.

The SIG said the first 1.2-based consumer products would begin arriving in the first quarter of 2004, with greater volumes arriving within the next 18 months.

Bluetooth everywhere
The Bluetooth SIG said shipments had been boosted by hardware makers' confidence that Bluetooth usability is improving. "With a fresh and jointly held view on the importance of usability, developers and manufacturers are feeling even more confident about Bluetooth wireless technology, and one million products a week shipping is proof of that," said Bluetooth SIG executive director Mike McCamon in a statement.

Bluetooth comes as an option on laptops including IBM's ThinkPad, Toshiba's Portege, Dell's Latitude D800 and Sony's Vaio, and is standard in Apple's G4 PowerBooks. It is also used in wireless keyboards and mice, a variety of mobile phones, handhelds including Palm's Tungsten T3 and HP's iPaq, and several models of high-end automobiles. The current 1.1 specification is used in more than 1,000 products, according to the SIG.

The SIG's core members are Agere, Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia and Toshiba, with thousands of others included as associate members.

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