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The Bluetooth SIG will incorporate Nokia's wearable Wibree technology into its portfolio: Nokia sparked some interest when it unveiled Wibree last year because of the niche it filled: wireless technology with miserly power use that could fit in a tiny form factor, like wearable items. But there were also groans. With Bluetooth, ultrawideband, Wi-Fi, WiMax, and ZigBee already extant--not another technology standard, please!
Fortunately, Nokia is contributing Wibree to the Bluetooth SIG, and the Wibree Forum (which includes Broadcom and other firms) will become part of the fold, too. Contributing is the operative word: Nokia will allow the use of Wibree royalty free. Bluetooth itself was turned into a royalty-free offering to push its adoption.
Wibree-based products will be marketed as ultra-low-power Bluetooth, and have a goal of a year's battery life, 10-meter range, and 1 Mbps throughput. Current Bluetooth products have no battery-life target that I'm aware of, and can operate at ranges of 10 meters (Class 2) or 100 meters (Class 1), and up to 3 Mbps with Bluetooth 2.0+HDR (high data rate). Existing Bluetooth devices won't talk to Wibree equipment, but future Bluetooth standards can incorporate that ability, as Wibree uses 2.4 GHz frequency hopping radios.
This might seem to put the Bluetooth SIG in competition with the ZigBee Alliance, which products products that use the IEEE 802.15.4 standard for low-power, long-battery-life, short-range, low-speed wireless communication. (By the way, IEEE 802.15.1 is a subset of Bluetooth.) ZigBee, however, is focused on devices in the home and office like alarm and fire sensors, A/V equipment (like a TV remote control), and "white" appliances like refrigerators that might have something to say to its owner. Wibree's intent is centered around small, mobile devices where Bluetooth might be too bulky or power-intensive. We'll see if worlds collide.
Part of the Bluetooth SIG's real genius in recent years--and, yes, its director Mike Foley deserves to be credited--is embrace, adopt, extend. Bluetooth was clearly on a path to obsolescence with its specific radio technology, even as developers and hardware manufacturers continued to cram Bluetooth into everything mobile. It didn't have a good roadmap with a single offering with incremental improvements--like moving from 1 Mbps to 3 Mbps.
What's critical to know about Bluetooth is that it's a pile of specific application-layer tasks (which they call "profiles") combined with underlying radio technology. The radio technology is, frankly, irrelevant except insofar as the original and current Bluetooth standards codified a common way of exchanging low-speed data wirelessly. That's great, but there are a lot of methods, and there's nothing particularly special or important about Bluetooth's RF.
Rather, the value is in the profiles, like file transfer, printing, hands-free access, and dial-up networking. These profiles are abstracted from the radio, which means that programmers never have to think about the RF properties of the device in order to use profiles. (They might think about efficiency for bandwidth and battery usage, but not about radio-wave propagation.)
This has allowed the Bluetooth SIG to embrace ultrawideband (UWB) and Wibree without compromising its existing set of products or alienating developers. In fact, it's a boon to all electronics makers: a handset or smartphone maker could add or switch to UWB from the Bluetooth RF standard without losing Bluetooth's capabilities. (UWB is always next year's technology. Late last year, it looked like 2007 was going to be the year. But we're still waiting for the first real UWB products to hit the marketplace.)
Wireless Week reports that the low-power, long-lived ZigBee standard is gaining momentum: ZigBee (802.15.4) is designed to provide small amounts of information over a very long period so that it can be embedded as radio technology in sensors and remote controls. The idea is that devices that otherwise would require wires in order to produce readings could deliver telemetry or send very small control strings and not require battery changes for many months or even years.
If ZigBee became widespread, it would dramatically reduce the need for wiring for heating/cooling in hotels and office buildings (and eventually in homes). It would also allow many incompatible systems to be replaced with one simple standard that will be cost effective to manufacture in bulk.
Right now, ZigBee single chip chipsets are $3 to $5. It needs to get below a buck. Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe, the chairman of a key chipmaker, noted that 10b microcontrollers are sold every year, and ZigBee could be significant part of that market.
Low-speed, low-energy standard might finally cause array of remote controls to disappear: ZigBee is meant to offer short distance low-speed transmissions that employ very little power so that battery life of the devices that use it and require batteries might be six months to 2 years. The ZigBee Alliance has published the first specification for its devices, which are based on IEEE 802.15.4.
Zigbee, as Peter Judge explains in Techworld, is intended as a tool to power communications among devices that have low information exchange needs, like home electronics controls and remote sensors. But because it's simpler and designed with fewer purposes than Bluetooth, it may displace many of the early envisioned purposes for Bluetooth.
Remarkably, the standard has had few of the turmoils that rocked 802.15.3a, the standard that's designed for very short distance and high speeds, which ultimately decided on ultrawideband (UWB) as the encoding but couldn't agree on the type of UWB.
Chips will be for sale by 2005 first quarter for about $5 apiece.
The chair of the alliance said he guarantees no man-in-the-middle attacks. He may be right: the standard was developed at a time rich with security knowledge about wireless interception, injection, and denial of service.