Ultra-low-power Bluetooth: the new wireless frontier

A new flavor of Bluetooth might be just the answer.

The wireless revolution sweeping consumer electronics has manufacturers of devices that need long life from a small battery struggling to find a complementary wireless technology. Makers of sensors for sports, health and fitness are in this camp, while manufacturers of products like watches have never even considered going wireless because of the limited options available.

Several wireless technologies have tried to address the needs of the long-battery-life market, but most have been proprietary and have garnered little industry support. ZigBee, with a consortium of manufacturers behind it, is one of the few exceptions. However, none of these technologies let smaller manufacturers plug in to a global standard.

What's more, today companies that want to make their small devices wireless must also build and sell either a dedicated display unit or an adapter that connects to a computing platform such as a mobile phone, PC or iPod. There have been few successful products that have followed this route to market.

A new flavor of Bluetooth might be just the answer.

With more than 1 billion Bluetooth-enabled devices shipped, including more than 50% of mobile phones sold worldwide, Bluetooth wireless technology is the solution of choice for connecting consumer electronic devices. Over half of consumers in many European and Asian countries already own at least one Bluetooth-enabled device, and the brand is recognized by a majority of consumers worldwide.

Bluetooth wireless technology has established the standard for usability, ease of setup and compatibility across all manufacturers. A well-established set of Bluetooth profiles define the communication needs for a wide range of applications, making it easy for a manufacturer to add Bluetooth wireless connectivity to new devices -- from phones to headsets to printers -- with a minimum of programming and testing work.

Bluetooth technology's years of software development, testing and validation experience, and consumer brand recognition are a tremendous advantage for any device that bears the Bluetooth logo. The current Bluetooth radio delivers a combination of fast data rate and low power consumption that has proven to be right for a range of mobile phone and PC applications, including hands-free communication, streaming music, printing and file transfer. But its speed is wasted in applications that require only small bits of information to be sent.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) recognizes that no single radio design will ever offer both maximum data rate and maximum battery life. With this in mind, the Bluetooth SIG has focused efforts on uniting several wireless technologies under a single Bluetooth wireless umbrella.

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Michael Foley

Network World
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