RealTime IT News

Bluetooth Meets Wi-Fi in 3.0 Update

Bluetooth, the wireless technology most commonly known for its use in mobile phone headsets, is receiving a upgrade -- enabling it to harness the speed of Wi-Fi to better adapt to users' needs for high-speed transfers.

The new version of the specification, dubbed "Bluetooth 3.0 + High Speed (HS)," is being announced today at a trade show in Tokyo.

The upgraded Bluetooth can temporarily tap into a mobile device's secondary 802.11 radio for short bursts of higher-bandwidth data. Once the data has been transmitted, the connection returns to normal operation on a Bluetooth radio.

That feature could open up Bluetooth to see adoption among manufacturers of TVs and other consumer electronics, according to members of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, the trade association behind the technology.

"Consumer electronics historically has not made much use of Bluetooth because the data rate was too slow for high-res video and CD-quality music, we were stuck with a 3 megabits-per-second (mbps) data rate, but now, Bluetooth 3.0, using 802.11g and even [802.11n], we'll see much more adoption in consumer devices," Bill McFarland, CTO of Atheros, told InternetNews.com.

He said that Bluetooth 3.0 could be used to connect a handset to wireless speakers and for video on mobile phones.

"If you have 1 to 3 mbps, it's not ideal, but now the data rate transfer is 10 times that," McFarland said. "It can also use 802.11n, so you could see an increase from 2 mbps to even 100 mbps."

He also expects to see Bluetooth's updated version for wireless printing, camcorder and camera connections to computers.

Mike Foley, the Bluetooth SIG's executive director, said he expects manufacturers like Motorola, Toshiba, Sony and Samsung building the new version of Bluetooth into mobile phones, computers, TVs and camcorders.

"Soon you will be able to transfer your entire playlist from your computer to your [iPod Touch] ... or transfer your entire vacation in photos from your camera to your flat screen," Mike Foley, the Bluetooth SIG's executive director, wrote in a blog post. "Bluetooth v3.0 will include all the essential benefits of standard Bluetooth technology (ad hoc connection capability, low battery consumption, backwards compatibility) but will also allow for consumers to take advantage of the speed of that other ubiquitous wireless technology, 802.11, for applications where it is needed."

Atheros's (NASDAQ: ATHR) McFarland said that Bluetooth's advantage over simply using Wi-Fi is that it uses existing coding to automatically connect.

"It combines the best aspects of both technologies, Bluetooth is set up for ad hoc local connections and leverages built-in applications, or profiles. If you look at Wi-Fi, traditionally even after a connection is established, the devices don't know what to do -- you have to add an app at the end for them to talk to each other."

"Bluetooth 3.0 will take lots of apps not heavily used and make them more useful," he added.

The news comes as both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are increasingly finding themselves bundled in the same devices -- like smartphones, which are proliferating in both the consumer and enterprise spaces. They're also becoming more PC-like, tasked with dealing with larger amounts of data like video and applications -- potentially making enhancements like Bluetooth 3.0 more appealing.

More mobile device vendors are also jumping on the Bluetooth bandwagon. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) said the upcoming version 3.0 of its iPhone operating system will unlock Bluetooth support for the iPod Touch, which uses the same software. The update, Apple execs said, also will enable both the iPod Touch and the iPhone to connect with a wider array of devices.

The official announcement of Bluetooth 3.0 is expected later this afternoon to coincide with the Bluetooth SIG's All Hands Meeting conference in Tokyo.