Bluetooth, Now with Wi-Fi

At a preview for developers today in Tokyo, the Bluetooth SIG unveiled one of its newest specifications, Bluetooth Low Energy Technology, which is intended for use in personal area network scenarios, such as health care or personal fitness. Think watches that can send workout data directly to the Web—and with batteries that can run for a year without needing to be recharged or replaced.


Four new chips were announced at the all-day event; single-mode chips from Nordic Semiconductor, Texas Instruments, and Cambridge Silicon Radio, and a dual-mode chip from TI. TI also announced a $99 developers’ kit due out later this year. Bluetooth Low Energy Technology joins another new specification nearing completion: Bluetooth 3.0 High Speed (HS), which includes Wi-Fi.


Thanks to Bluetooth 3.0+HS, sometime next year, users of Wi-Fi-enabled devices, such as the iPod touch, will be able to transfer large files, such as video or music, with the ease of Bluetooth pairing. Bluetooth 3.0 + HS combines the seamless pairing of Bluetooth with the speed and energy efficiency of Wi-Fi. (Hazzah!)


“Soon you will be able to transfer your entire playlist from your computer to your iPod touch (because now even Apple is including and enabling Bluetooth), or transfer your entire vacation in photos from your camera to your flat screen. 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,” said Mike Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) in his blog last week.


Among the companies working closesly to develop Bluetooth 3.0+HS is Atheros.


“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 Mbps data rate, but now, Bluetooth 3.0, using 802.11g and even n, we’ll see much more adoption in consumer devices,” said Bill McFarland CTO of Atheros.


“If you have one to three megabits per second, it’s not ideal, but now the data rate transfer is ten times that,” McFarland. “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 3.0 applied to wireless printing, camcorders, and digital cameras for wireless transfer of images and files.


Faster, faster

In addition to all the cell phones and mobile devices—and even cars—currently sporting integrated Bluetooth, according to ABI Research, Bluetooth will be built into nearly two-thirds of laptops by 2010, and Wi-Fi chipmakers are not missing the boat.


Calling it an “industry first,” Broadcom got the Bluetooth ball rolling at CES this year by demonstrating an alternative MAC and PHY (AMP) technology that enables Bluetooth to support data rates of up to 24 Mbps, as well as an increase in range, by using other wireless radio technologies, including Wi-Fi, as its transport medium. 

The Bluetooth AMP technology was demonstrated at CES using a Broadcom BCM4325 single-chip Bluetooth + Wi-Fi combo device, as well as modules that integrate the BCM2046 single-chip Bluetooth solution and BCM4312 single-chip Wi-Fi device. 

“Our unique position as a leader in both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth has enabled us to take leadership in applications that require multiple technologies to work well together in the same device, such as Bluetooth AMP,” said Robert Rango, Senior Vice President & General Manager of Broadcom’s Wireless Connectivity Group in January (at CES). “We look forward to our continued collaboration with the Bluetooth SIG in moving Bluetooth forward.”

The first AMP technology target for Bluetooth is 802.11g, which Broadcom says could increase Bluetooth transfer rates by up to ten times when compared to standard or enhanced data rate (EDR) Bluetooth.

Both Bluetooth Low Energy Technology and Bluetooth 3.0+HS are poised to dramatically take off in 2010. Some analysts (including IMS Research) predict that by 2013, 70% of all mobile phones being sold with Bluetooth functionality will support low energy Bluetooth.


Originally announced in February of 2008 at Mobile World Congress, Bluetooth 3.0+HS is expected to reach consumers through end products sometime next year. Expectations for Bluetooth Low Energy are less clear, but the testing phase will “begin soon,” according to Foley.


 Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet. Follow her on Twitter. Join Wi-Fi Planet on Facebook. Additional reporting by Michelle Megna of

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