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Nokia extends Bluetooth into low power applications

New handsets to feature six radio technologies

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Nokia has launched a new wireless standard to add to the short-range wireless mix.

Wibree borrows much from Bluetooth including frequencies and antennas, but lowers the power consumption to make it more applicable for devices with low-bandwidth requirements such as embedded sensors and user interface devices – mice and keyboards.

More particularly, Wibree devices have extremely low idle-time power consumption, making it ideal for devices which spend a great deal of time sitting around doing nothing: such as a typical mouse, or a watch which can display caller-ID. Bluetooth can be used in these applications, but consumes a comparatively large amount of power.

Nokia foresees devices such as mobile phones supporting both Bluetooth and Wibree, with both technologies sharing chips and antenna, while a mouse or wristwatch would only support Wibree with a corresponding increase in battery life. By designing the standard as an adjunct to Bluetooth the cost of adding it should be tiny, though it is unlikely to be much cheaper than Bluetooth to implement alone.

Bluetooth SIG global marketing director Anders Ediund said Nokia has been in talks with the company for some time about incorporating the Wibree technology into the Bluetooth standard. Such an arrangement seems likely and could be necessary for Wibree to be widely adopted, assuming they can come to an agreement. The first version of the Wibree standard is scheduled to be published around May next year, so it will be a few years before we see handsets supporting it - but when they do it will take the radio count on a Nokia handset to six.

Starting with 3G connectivity for telephony, along with Wi-Fi on some models at least, Bluetooth will provide for medium-range connections including headsets and car kits, and supporting WiMedia when a high-speed connection is needed. Wibree will provide for low-power-medium-range connections to embedded sensors, while NFC (Near Field Communications) is used for very short range applications such as proximity payments or setting up other connections. Add in an FM radio and you hit seven.

Notably absent from this list are Zigbee and Z-Wave, both of which are targeted at just the kind of application Nokia wants to see Wibree doing. Nokia has signed up to neither technology, so its launch of a competitor makes sense, though both Zigbee and Z-Wave already have deployed products, so are significant competition.

Announced by anyone other than Nokia this would be just another standard going nowhere, but with such a power-house behind it Wibree could well take on Zigbee and Z-Wave.

Nokia now needs to sign up some component manufacturers beyond the launch partners - Broadcom, CSR, Epson, and Nordic Semiconductor - to demonstrate that there is industry-wide support for Wibree and it isn't just a Nokia initiative. ®

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