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Bluetooth SIG backs Wi-Fi as fast WPAN choices proliferate

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Wibree

As well as WiMedia UWB, and Wi-Fi, the Bluetooth SIG decided in June to support the Nokia personal area networking technology Wibree. As with its other choices, this was no doubt partly to ensure that Bluetooth works with its potential challengers rather than being attacked by them, but Wibree does add significantly to Bluetooth’s options in very low power applications.

Wibree was developed by Nokia six years ago and launched into the market a year ago. Although there were fears it would be presented as a vendor controlled alternative to Bluetooth, it works better as a complement, since it addresses devices with extremely low power capacity such as watches and heart rate monitors, and can allow them to compete with other devices such as Bluetooth handsets.

Bluetooth is really too power hungry for such minute gadgets (it uses 10 times more power than Wibree), but a combination with higher powered cellphones could drive applications such as health monitoring for the elderly.

Wibree could also be integrated with UWB to boost its own data rates (currently no faster than Bluetooth's), strengthening Nokia's influence in the high potential UWB sector. Nokia contributed to the UWB platform backed by Intel and Texas Instruments, which is expected to be the basis of next generation WirelessUSB, Bluetooth and IP specification, but integrating this with its own MAC could strengthen the burgeoning Intel-Nokia axis, focused on dominating the new breed of mobile and wireless devices.

Wibree shares many of the characteristics of Bluetooth, with a range of 30 feet, 1Mbps data rates and operating in the 2.4GHz license exempt band. Like the older system, it is based on variable length packets that deliver low data rates. Early backers included Broadcom, Bluetooth chip leader CSR, Epson and Nordic Semiconductor.

Nokia says that since Wibree shares much of the same underlying technology with Bluetooth it will be easy and cost-effective for manufacturers to design dual-mode chips.

The SIG said in a statement: "Wibree consists of a small extension to a standard Bluetooth radio. As such, Wibree has the potential to enhance Bluetooth use cases in the phone by bringing sensor [network] type devices into the fold."

This hints at a long held ambition of the Bluetooth community - to extend its reach into the emerging market for automation and other networks based on tiny sensors. To date, the most hopeful standard to dominate this space has been Zigbee, which may also look to a UWB-based next generation.

Helping Bluetooth address such potentially lucrative new sectors will be one of the key incentives that Nokia can bring to encourage the SIG and the existing community of vendors to support its technology. It may also be an area of possible cooperation with Intel, which has talked about ultra-low power sensors and putting wireless connections "into a Band-Aid".

Copyright © 2007, 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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