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Bluetooth to evolve via UWB

Global wireless tech to incorporate ultrawideband

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The Bluetooth Special Interest Group - the body that controls the wireless connectivity standard - has formally chosen ultrawideband as the foundation for future versions of the technology.

It comes as no great surprise. Over a year ago, at Intel Developer Forum, it was made clear that Bluetooth would ultimately establish itself as yet another connectivity protocol sitting on top of a UWB radio, much as USB and FireWire are already being adapted for wireless operation.

UWB has always been seen as a rival wireless technology to Bluetooth, since both a designed to handle short-range data transfers. If you can do 400Mbps USB wirelessly, why use the slower Bluetooth specification. Because, as Intel Enterprise Group chief Pat Gelsinger said in February 2004, there are rather a lot of Bluetooth devices out there. "Millions and millions" of Bluetooth devices have shipped, he told The Register, "Over time, UWB could replace Bluetooth," he added, "but it's way, way off. Bluetooth has been shipping for five years and it will ship for five or ten more - it's a very successful technology."

It's also something that works the world over, which is not true of UWB. In many parts of the world, the spectrum in which UWB operates is not open for anyone to use. Until its spectrum becomes another unlicensed band, UWB will find it hard to achieve the ubiquity that many of the protocols that sit on top of it have achieved.

Today, Bluetooth is incompatible with UWB, which is why the BT-SIG wants future products to support both today's 2.4GHz wireless transmissions and UWB.

"The ultimate goal is to work towards an architecture that allows devices to take advantage of UWB data rates for scenarios requiring that speed while maintaining backward compatibly with both existing Bluetooth devices on the market and future products not requiring the higher data rate," said BT-SIG executive director Michael Foley.

But which UWB? Chip maker Freescale was quick to welcome the BT-SIG's decision, touting its Direct Sequence UWB (DS-UWB) technology as the ideal basis for the organisation's aims. But Intel has always been a strong member of the BT-SIG and it, along with other members, is backing the merged WiMedia Alliance/Multiband OFDM Alliance, which interestingly Microsoft joined last week. ®

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