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Bluetooth roadmap updated but UWB wars could scupper it

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The Bluetooth Special Interest Group, which controls the development of the short range wireless standard, is shortly to publish an updated roadmap that defines plans up to the third quarter of 2007, with the focus on interoperability with UltraWideBand (UWB).

UWB is certainly the best future survival plan for the more established platform, but the Bluetooth community face a real dilemma on how to proceed should the fight over future standards for UWB remain unresolved for a long period.

Although these two personal area technologies were potentially competitive, the Bluetooth group decided earlier this year to converge with UWB and support a UWB media access control (MAC) layer in future releases. This will enable Bluetooth to deliver higher speeds and possibly gain ground in the digital media market where UWB is expected to shine, if it can gain regulatory approval on a global basis.

UWB standards war

However, it is still not clear which of the key UWB technologies Bluetooth SIG will mainly work with – the UWB Forum, led by Freescale, which like Bluetooth is working under the auspices of the IEEE; or its rival, the more heavily backed WiMedia Alliance, which has broken with the IEEE and is seeking standards approval via another body, ECMA.

The SIG believes there will eventually be one converged UWB PHY (physical layer) standard and said that, should two rival ones remain in the market long term, this would be a reason to reject the UWB plan.

Intel, the major backer of the WiMedia Alliance, believes that its technology has attained such market weight that, by the time it is formally ratified through ECMA, the IEEE effort will die or converge with WiMedia. However, there is still considerable effort going into UWB Forum technologies and, while the two will have to accommodate each other eventually in order to create a global scale market, this could take a long time – long enough to deprive

Bluetooth, in the near term, of the benefits it needs from UWB support, which will be critical to its ability to stay competitive and move into the lucrative digital home market.

The roadmap

The first core release on the roadmap, codenamed Lisbon, is virtually complete and covers the Enhanced Data Rate 2.0 version, to be released early next year, with commercial devices expected in late 2006.

The next core, called Seattle, will be the first to feature compatibility with UWB and the specification is expected in the first quarter of 2007, with devices by the end of that year. This release will see Bluetooth date rates rising from the current 3Mbps to UWB speeds of up to 480Mbps (or up to 1Gbps with future evolutions).

The roadmap shows that the SIG envisages a convergence layer, like the one already devised by the WiMedia Alliance, that would be the basis of interfacing between the UWB MACs and Bluetooth’s logical link control and application protocol layers, supporting features such as service discovery as well as making Bluetooth suitable for a wider range of devices. Other PHY/MAC layers could also be plugged under the Bluetooth protocols in future too.

Other important facets of the Bluetooth roadmap are improved security features, advanced topologies and better quality of service. Some new features in Seattle will include multicast support so that data can be sent to multiple end points simultaneously, eSCO air mode negotiation for renegotiation and seamless switching of the air mode, and AES security.

Consumer program

The Bluetooth SIG said that the market has reached the milestone of 9.5m units shipping per week, doubled since May. Aiming at more short term boosts than UWB will bring, the group has devised a consumer program to raise end users’ awareness of Bluetooth and improve their experience of the technology, especially in its main home, handsets.

The program includes a tool, available to all product makers, called Experience Icons, which aims to offer clearer communications to buyers; a new web site to help consumers understand Bluetooth capabilities; a set of common, easily understood user terminology for manufacturers to use in marketing and customer information, in 34 languages; and a set of guidelines for implementation of Bluetooth in mobile phones, to improve usability.

The aim is to get users actively to request Bluetooth rather than buying it by default as an embedded item in handsets and other devices. Increasingly, as more and more wireless technologies target the non-technical consumer, such apparently simple measures will be as important as the advances in performance to speed time to market for product makers and change consumer perceptions.

Copyright © 2005, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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