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Nokia folds Wibree into Bluetooth

One standard not two

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Nokia launched its Wibree personal area network technology in October 2006 as an extension to Bluetooth. Today, Wibree became Bluetooth. The Nokia-led Wibree Forum is to merge with the Bluetooth SIG, the body that oversees the wireless standard.

Wibree, which has been under development within Nokia since 2001, was established as a very low power technology for networking nearby highly portable devices. Like Bluetooth, it was planned to operate in the 2.4GHz band, connecting devices within a 10m range. However, its speed was capped at 1Mbps and was more about exchanging small packets of data and control information than transmitting data in bulk, as Bluetooth is often used for.

The applications Nokia had in mind are links between phones and watches - the kind of thing Sony Ericsson showed off last year with the Bluetooth watch it co-developed with Fossil. Nokia also mentioned sports sensors - again there's a precedent: Apple's iPod+Nike pedometer-on-your-music-player gadget.

Nokia's pitch in the past was that these apps are more suited to the cheaper, lower power Wibree than Bluetooth. Unlike the Zigbee wireless technology - which, given the similarity of the name, may have been the inspiration for Wibree - Nokia's suggestion delivers a higher bandwidth. Zigbee is a 2.4GHz technology that delivers up to 250Kbps at 1-100m.

Bringing Wibree and Bluetooth together will guarantee interoperability between the technologies, Nokia said, and provide the established standard with an ultra-low power profile, extending its applicability.

In a way, the move is a failure on Nokia's part to convince the world that it needs a new, separate standard for the wireless connections Wibree of was designed for. Especially, since Wibree was always designed to be Bluetooth friendly. Perhaps the Finnish phone giant should have submitted the technology to the Bluetooth SIG in the first place.

Bluetooth's roadmap calls for the development of a version of the technology founded upon the WiMedia Alliance's standard implementation on ultrawideband (UWB) to allow it to attain even higher data speeds and make it more applicable for the kind of roles Wireless USB was developed for. The addition of Wibree will broaden Bluetooth's appeal.

But when? Nokia and the Bluetooth SIG said the two specifications will be fully merged "in approximately one year" - sometime in H1 2008.

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