Mike Foley, the executive director of the Bluetooth SIG (the multi-vendor special interest group that plays chaperone to Bluetooth standards), has responded (in his blog) to a post of mine (yesterday) about whether or not Nokia's Wibree wireless technology is a gauntlet, one that could end up being substituted for Bluetooth. Wrote Foley:
It’s important to note that Wibree isn’t an alternative for the majority of Bluetooth use cases including the voice, printing, transfer and music scenarios. As the Nokia press release states, they are focused on sensor applications like a watch. Like most technologies there is some overlap in use cases. Between Wibree and Bluetooth technologies the overlap most likely occurs in the input devices mentioned in the announcement.
Foley goes onto say that Bluetooth is actually under the hood of Wibree:
What doesn’t seem to be mentioned [in Nokia's announcement] is that in the complex device such as a mobile phone, Wibree is built upon Bluetooth wireless technology. Wibree consists of a small extension to a standard Bluetooth radio. As such, Wibree has the potential to enhance Bluetooth use cases in the phone by bringing sensor type devices into the fold.
Via e-mail, Bluetooth SIG spokesperson Kari Hernandez wrote:
On behalf of the Bluetooth SIG, I just wanted to respond to your blog entry on the Wibree announcement. It’s important to note that this isn’t an alternative for the majority of Bluetooth use cases that include the voice, printing, transfer and music scenarios. As the Nokia release points out, they are focused on sensor applications like the watch. However, like most technologies there is some overlap such as the mention of HID devices in the announcement. There are talks between the Bluetooth SIG and Nokia regarding the future of Wibree but at this point there is nothing concrete to say publicly.
To me, this is one of those situations where I can't help but wonder if there's almost as much in what isn't being said as in what's being said (it's like how the CA Attorney General's lack of any comment about former HP chairwoman Patricia Dunn was just as important as what was said about HP CEO Mark Hurd). I've been covering technology long enough to know that when big public relations-savvy companies make an announcement, that every word is chosen very carefully. In announcing WiBree and choosing language like "It's up to 10 times more energy efficient than Bluetooth," Nokia is clearly making comparisons. Are those comparisons simply for the sake of pointing out the technology's suitability to applications where Bluetooth's thirst for power is impractical? Perhaps.
In fairness to Foley and the folks at the Bluetooth SIG, the press release does say:
Wibree technology compliments close range communication with Bluetooth like performance within 0-10 [meter] range and data rate of 1 mbps. Wibree is optimized for applications running extremely low power consumption, small size, and low cost. Wibree is implemented either as stand-alone chip or as Bluetooth-Wibree dual-mode chip. The small devices like watches and sports sensors will be based on stand-alone chip whereas Bluetooth devices will take benefit of the dual-mode solution, extending Bluetooth device connectivity to new range of smallest devices.
(yes, that was transcribed verbatim but I won't complain that they need a proofreader since half my blog posts are guilty of the same thing).
But the fact that Wibree is this far along (Nokia's partners are Broadcom, CSR, Epson, and Nordic Semiconductor) and that Nokia and the Bluetooth SIG are "in talks" (with nothing concrete to say publicly) suggests that the two aren't fitting together like peanut butter and jelly just yet. Additionally, Nokia may envision certain applications for this new technology. But just imagine if the HTTP protocol (aka: the Web) and HTML were confined to what their inventors envisioned? Strange things happen when innovative people get a hold of a new technology.
Finally, I have my reservations about the technology anyway. Wibree is not licensable under unencumbered terms. In other words, there are royalties involved and encumbrances of this nature often stifle innovation. Wibree may never achieve its full potential as long as that guy in the garage down the street has no free access to it.
My other reservation has to do with battery life. It's great that Wibree consumes such low power. But if they are thinking of having another horse step up to the power trough inside one of my handsets, I'm already skeptical. The Motorola Q that I'm testing, for example, barely lasts a business day on its stock battery when its broadband cellular radio [sic] and Bluetooth radio are in use at the same time. I really can't imagine adding yetanother radio into the formula. This again is why I think the words that Nokia picked in rolling Wibree out were very carefully selected so as not to rule out the possibility that it might compete with Bluetooth over the long run.