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Bluetooth 4 comes out punching, takes aims at elderly

Low power, big demand?

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The Bluetooth Special Interest Group is trying to drum up interest in the next version of the standard, before Zigbee, Z-Wave and NFC steal the march on short-range radios.

Bluetooth version 4 was announced in December, and the new edict from the SIG contains few details beyond speculation about a range of 200 feet, lots of talk about health monitoring (wellness applications), and some dates when we can expect to see actual devices.

The increased range comes from the removal of transmission power limits in the standard, but the ISM (Industrial Scientific Medical) band used by Bluetooth still has limits, and even the SIG doesn't envision manufacturers pushing the range beyond about 60 meters.

Chips conforming to the Bluetooth Low Energy specification are apparently available now, with the final version of the spec expected at the end of June and commercial devices hitting the shelves early next year - though quite what the application is for low-powered Bluetooth remains unclear.

Bluetooth Low Power came from Nokia's WiBree, though the standard now shares much more with Bluetooth Classic (as the basic standard is now dubbed). WiBree was intended for monitoring hearts and shoes for joggers who want to tweet their progress in real time, and that's still the focus of Bluetooth Low Power. It's interesting to see aging engineers driving the mobile industry increasingly towards heath care, though we're not convinced there's really a mass market for wireless shoes.

The ZigBee alliance, who'll be competing with Bluetooth to exploit the as-yet-undefined short-range-radio market, is focusing on remote control of TVs and Stereos, and home automation - surely more attractive to the majority, or perhaps that's just us.

Both technologies offer battery lives measured in years, and while there are technical differences they make little impact on the functionality being proposed, so it's more a matter of whose brand is biggest (Bluetooth) and who can get to market first (ZigBee), assuming we don't just decide to buy neither. ®

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