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Nokia launches Bluetooth's little brother

Wibree is being touted as similar to Bluetooth, but with its lower power consumption it's ideal for infrequent bursts of data
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The wireless keyboard and mouse could become a lot less power hungry if a new radio technology called Wibree fulfils expectations.

Announced on Tuesday by Finnish communications giant Nokia, Wibree is designed to complement Bluetooth and work with the same hardware, although it can also operate as a standalone technology.

Wibree and Bluetooth both operate at 2.4GHz and have a similar range of around 10m, but the difference between the two lies in the continuity of the data being transferred. While Bluetooth is suited to constant uses such as streaming data or voice connectivity, Wibree is being touted as ideal for infrequent bursts of data — where the connected device will need to consume much less power.

"It's similar to wireless LAN but optimised for smaller devices," explained Jani Tierala, business development manager at Nokia Research Centre, who added that it would be well-suited to things such as heart-rate monitors and sports watches, as well as wireless keyboards and mice.

In the example of the heart-rate monitor, Tierala claimed power consumption could be as low as 10 percent of that used by a Bluetooth connection.

The cost of implementing Wibree in a dual-mode device alongside Bluetooth would be "very, very small", said Tierala, although Nokia hopes that even a standalone implementation would cost less than a dollar.

Tierala also stressed that Wibree was different to similar low-power wireless technologies such as ZigBee, which is designed to be used in industrial automation and sensor networks.

Nokia is currently working on an interoperability specification for Wibree alongside companies such as CSR, Broadcom, Epson and Nordic Semiconductor, who have licensed the technology for commercial chip implementation. The target is for the specification to be agreed by the middle of 2007, with products hitting the shelves by the end of that year.

Other companies, such as sports instrument designer Suunto Oy, are involved in the group with a view to implementing the technology in their particular fields.

Nokia's research and development team — who also celebrated their 20th anniversary on Tuesday — began work on Wibree in 2001. It is rumoured that the name derives from a combination of "wireless" and the fictional village Bree from the Lord of the Rings, which served as a notable crossroads in the story.

On Tuesday Nokia also announced a Web-based service called WidSets, for installing widgets (small Web 2.0-oriented applications) on any Java MIDP 2.0-enabled handset. Users can drag and drop a selection of commercial or user-generated widgets onto the screen of an emulated handset, for synchronisation with their real device.

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