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Bluetooth 4 pulls on pair of profiles, hits the track

Standard still has a long way to run

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Two new Bluetooth profiles will measure how fast the user is running or peddling, creating interoperability, but are also aimed at proving that the standard isn't slowing down.

The profiles come from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) and standardise the way in which information about running speed and cycling cadence (peddling) is transmitted. The profiles will allow sensors from any provider to send information to phones and other devices supporting Bluetooth 4LE, the low-energy incarnation of the standard.

The Bluetooth SIG got a new CEO earlier this month, Portsmouth-born Mark Powell. Powell took the helm on 6 August and, when we spoke to him, was dismissive of our suggestion that the Bluetooth standard was nearing the end of its evolution. He pointing out that Bluetooth LE is creating new opportunities for the standard, and that 160 new companies are signing up to the SIG every month – and not only 'cos it provides patent protection for free.

Bluetooth has been dangerously close to following IrDA (the Infrared Data Association) into obscurity, despite the overwhelming success of both technologies. The original Bluetooth standard has been pushed about as far as it can go, and is embedded into just about everything electronic (with the notable exception of TV sets*) but has struggled to get beyond audio streaming and exchanges of business cards.

Back in 2006 the SIG embraced Ultra Wideband as an evolutionary future, though UWB's expense and limited range has thus far stymied its deployment, and Bluetooth HS, which used Bluetooth's rather-brilliant Service Discovery Protocol to negotiate Wi-Fi connections, never went mainstream.

Bluetooth LE came from Nokia's Wibree project, and competes with Z-Wave and Zigbee in the battery-life-measured-with-a-calendar category of wireless. Z-Wave kit is very interoperable, while Zigbee is flexible, but neither has had success getting embedded into telephones.

The new profiles don't do anything which proprietary solutions aren't already doing, but they should make it possible for sensors built into running shoes, or bicycles, to work with anyone's smartphone app, and perhaps encourage a few more handset manufacturers to embed LE into their products. ®

* Powell, like the CEO before him, promised that 3D specs would finally push Bluetooth into tellys.

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