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Bluetooth 3.0 released without ultrawideband

The latest version of the wireless standard has been formally adopted, offering lower data-transfer speeds than had been anticipated
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The specification for a new version of Bluetooth was formally adopted on Tuesday, the industry group behind the standard has announced.

Bluetooth 3.0's main benefit over its predecessor is its enhanced transfer speed. Whereas Bluetooth 2.1+EDR offered maximum speeds of around 3Mbps, the new version of the technology takes that up to around 24Mbps, through its use of the 802.11 radio protocol — better known as the basis for Wi-Fi.

The new specification is also less power-hungry than its forebears, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Utilising the 802.11 radio was a natural choice as it provides efficiencies for both our members and consumers — members get more function out of the two radios they are already including in devices, and consumers with Bluetooth [3.0] products will get faster exchange of information without changing how they connect," Michael Foley, the Bluetooth SIG's executive director, said in the statement.

According to the statement, consumer products using Bluetooth 3.0 are expected to hit shelves in from nine to 12 months' time. These products are likely to include PCs, mobile phones, digital cameras and camcorders — the technology is well suited to the bulk transfer of images and other media. Chip manufacturers including CSR, Marvell, Broadcom and Atheros announced Bluetooth 3.0-compliant products on Tuesday.

The new specification is, however, missing a widely anticipated ingredient that would have taken its transfer speeds to around 480Mbps, rather than 24Mbps: ultrawideband (UWB). The Bluetooth SIG announced back in March 2006 that it wanted to integrate the low-power, high-bandwidth, short-range radio technology with Bluetooth.

UWB has had a difficult time of late — several key companies have folded within the last six months and, in March, the WiMedia Alliance, the industry body backing UWB, also called it a day. The WiMedia Alliance said at the time that it was passing on the technical specifications of UWB to the Bluetooth SIG, the Wireless USB Promoter Group and the USB Implementers' Forum.

ZDNet UK asked the Bluetooth SIG why UWB technology is absent from Bluetooth 3.0, but had not received a reply at the time of writing. However, Gartner vice president and analyst Nick Jones said on Wednesday that UWB was left out of Bluetooth 3.0 due to technical problems.

"I believe there were issues of getting [UWB] to work as well as people had expected," Jones said. "It would have been nice to have multiple-hundreds-of-megabits-per-second data transfers, but the lack of it is an inconvenience, not a disaster. UWB has a relatively small range, so once you get more than a few metres away you don't get the hundreds of megabits anyway."

Jones also pointed out that, because Bluetooth 3.0 achieves its 24Mbps transfer speeds by pairing devices and then initiating a Wi-Fi connection between them, it could do the same with other wireless technologies that are built into the devices — including UWB, if it was built in.

"Bluetooth maybe saw its role changing a little bit to absorb multiple bearers," Jones said. "There's nothing in the architecture that would stop you adding other supplementary bearers as well, such as UWB. As mobile devices take on more advanced forms of Wi-Fi, they could take on 802.11n [the latest version of Wi-Fi] as well."

However, Jones said he was "not sure how much traction [UWB] has anymore".

"It's not as if we're short of wireless standards anyway," he said. "There are other standards for things like wireless HDTV connections; there's technology like Sony's TransferJet. It's a Darwinian process of evolution — some standards get traction and some don't."

The analyst said he thought Bluetooth 3.0's low energy requirements would be "hugely influential" over the next five years. "It opens up the path for very low-cost sensors and peripherals for mobile phones," Jones said. "You could have devices with a battery life of multiple years, such as medical sensors or intelligent trainers."

Jones added that changes to the Bluetooth profiles would be likely to see improvements in the viability of proximity marketing — where shops or Bluetooth-enabled posters try to send marketing details to nearby Bluetooth-enabled devices.

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