The group that controls Bluetooth's evolution decided to favor the WiMedia Alliance's flavor of ultrawideband (UWB): UWB offers speeds of 110 Mbps to 480 Mbps over distances of 10 down to 1 meters in its current incarnation. Two incompatible versions are backed by separate alliances. The WiMedia Alliance includes Intel and a number of other semiconductor makers, computer technology manufacturers, and consumer electronics firms. The other alliance--UWB Forum--is Freescale with just a few significant companies in the mix, including former parent Motorola.
The Bluetooth SIG had earlier signaled that it would support development of Bluetooth profiles and technology--such as object exchange (file transfer) and other widely supported and implemented higher-level modules for action--on top of the classic UWB that Freescale will release shortly to its manufacturing partners and the MB-OFDM flavor developed by WiMedia. (Freescale has talked about production silicon for years, but still lacks a single product on the market; July is the target for two partners for a USB 2.0 hub that uses UWB.)
Now, WiMedia is the only dance partner for the Bluetooth SIG. In an article in ExtremeTech, the SIG's head, Mike Foley says that the trade group's members heavily favored the WiMedia version of UWB. Freescale's head Martin Rofheart said in the same article that the company's short-term focus reamins USB 2.0 replacement given that Bluetooth-based high-speed applications won't be ready until some time in 2007 in the revised scheduled announced today.
A year ago, Rofheart said:
Fast Bluetooth may beat Wireless USB to the market, said Rofheart, since the high-level protocols are in place, and Freescale's silicon is further ahead: "The pieces are more mature, and can be wed together more quickly, rolling into the market faster."
This has proven not to be true. A demonstration last October showed Bluetooth operating over the Freescale flavor of UWB. Freescale and a few other firms that back its flavor are members of the Bluetooth SIG. Motorola was an original promoter and founder of the SIG. Freescale and Motorola have enormous product portfolios, however, and this Bluetooth SIG decision might not cause either company to leave the trade group.
The Bluetooth SIG is pursuing several different paths to make its applications continue to be relevant given the slow speed of its current paired radio technology--just 3 Mbps with Bluetooth 2.0+SDR. The applications allow for wide interoperability and leverage legions of developers who have written Bluetooth support. Changing the radio out from underneath Bluetooth is relatively straightforward compared with the adoption of an entirely new specification from top to bottom, which is why Bluetooth appears to have legs as it follows UWB, Near Field Communications (a form of very close proximity communication), and even Wi-Fi.
ABI Research put out a statement that this choice by the Bluetooth SIG puts WiMedia UWB makers in an superb position for unit volumes. "From a UWB perspective, this potentially opens up a vast market for products; we forecast over one billion Bluetooth radio shipments per annum by the end of the decade, and in the worst case -- should the UWB PHY be included in only a small percentage -- the market will still represent massive volumes of shipments that are unlikely to be encountered in other UWB implementations in the same time period," the statement said.
Alereon, a UWB chipmaker, issued its support for the decision in a statement, and trumpeted the fact that its technology was used for a demonstration at the Bluetooth SIG's meeting at which the choice of WiMedia technology was announced.
An interesting note at the end of the ExtremeTech article says that SIG head Foley didn't "rule out a merger" between the Bluetooth SIG and the WiMedia Alliance, which is the result of a merger itself of the original WiMedia Alliance (focused on higher-level protocols) and the Multiband OFDM Alliance (MBOA), which dealt with radio/physical-layer issues.