Bluetooth Web servers to invade the home

Cambridge Silicon Radio has embedded a tiny Web server into its Bluetooth chips, potentially allowing control of everything from DVD players to central heating from a Web browser

Bluetooth may be best known as a wireless technology for connecting mobile phones and PDAs to a PC, but it could become even more useful as a way of controlling home electronics and appliances from any Internet-connected device, according to Bluetooth chipmaker Cambridge Silicon Radio.

The company is already making Bluetooth chips for consumer devices that include a simple Web server, giving each device its own Internet address via the next-generation Internet Protocol, IPv6. A user in an airport for instance could simply type the address into a Web browser in a handheld computer, laptop or kiosk and program the video recorder.

Simon Finch, CSR's vice president of strategic marketing, demonstrated such an application with a DVD player at a meeting with journalists on Monday. But he emphasised that the system does not just apply to consumer electronics. "This can be built into a lot of different kinds of things, not just a DVD player," said Finch. "It might be most useful to control something like your central heating. Because it's IPv6, there is the address space for many, many devices."

IPv6, or Internet Protocol version 6, is the successor to IPv4, the protocol mostly used today to provide numeric addresses to Internet-connected devices. Because IPv6 uses 128-bit addressing, compared to the 32-bit IPv4 addressing, many more addresses are available, and mass-produced consumer devices could all make use of unique addresses without any danger of running out of room. (IPv4 provides a total of slightly over four billion addresses, but these are already becoming scarce.)

CSR's system works best in homes that have an always-on broadband connection, although this isn't strictly necessary. The chip-based server communicates via Bluetooth with a PC or Internet gateway in the home, and is protected from general access by the home's firewall. Because Bluetooth chips are cheap to produce, compared with technologies such as Wi-Fi (802.11b), the cost of embedding it into consumer electronics is low. CSR's BlueCore-ROM chip, introduced on Monday, measures 6mm x 6mm, or about a tenth the size of a 5p piece.

For homes without an always-on connection, some ISPs can provide a service that allows users to remotely create a connection to their home PC, although this feature is somewhat exotic, Finch said.

Another simple remote device that may become popular is the traditional Webcam. Finch showed that an Axis camera could be controlled via its built-in Web server over a Bluetooth and Internet link. "You could use this if you're away on business, and your kids said they wouldn't throw a party but you think they really might be throwing a party," he quipped.

Bluetooth is a three-year-old short-range wireless technology initially promoted by the mobile phone industry for connecting devices such as headsets, handsets, PDAs and computers to one another. It is also becoming popular in automobiles for creating a wireless handsfree connection to a mobile phone, and is expected to establish itself in specialist industries such as medical devices. CSR provided the technology for most of the Bluetooth-enabled devices shipped last year.

Finch said that the threat of Bluetooth being challenged by Wi-Fi is overstated, and said that manufacturers will probably include both technologies in many products, despite lingering interference issues between the two. He demonstrated a Sony Vaio laptop connecting to both a wireless LAN and a Bluetooth-enabled DVD player at the same time.


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