An Intel-backed startup, Ozmo, plans low-power Wi-Fi protocol modification to compete with Bluetooth technology: Ozmo has developed chips for wireless peripherals like headphones, headsets, and handhelds (the three H's?) as well as mice and keyboards that pair with special driver software for computers to enable a 9 Mbps Wi-Fi-based PAN (personal area network) at the same time a computer is connected via Wi-Fi to a wireless LAN (local area network).
Ozmo apparently is trying to leverage the ubiquity of Wi-Fi, the market reach of Intel (which has invested in the firm and is pushing its technology), and the dissatisfaction with Bluetooth device association and throughput to stick a wedge into Bluetooth's market domination. Well over a billion Bluetooth chipsets have shipped--CSR alone has shipped over a billion--and estimates put half a billion this year into cell phones alone. So there's a large embedded market to overcome.
This new technology, so far unnamed but apparently part of Intel's Cliffside research program, is trying to reduce complexity by reducing the number of standards needed to drive a computer, while increasing the flexibility of those standards. Ozmo and Intel's system would, for instance, allow a simultaneous WLAN connection and a PAN network of up to 8 devices using a single radio on a computer.
The press releases and articles make it quite unclear whether a new Wi-Fi chip would be needed; that chip would almost certainly not conform to today's Wi-Fi standards except in a compatibility mode, given that Wi-Fi has no capacity for PAN-style connections. Ad hoc mode isn't quite the same thing. In the past, extensions to the 802.11 standards that are the basis of the Wi-Fi certification and service mark were allowed as long as basic 802.11 worked as expected.
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have been complementary technologies for several years. There were early conflicts--I wrote an article about the severe problems in using Bluetooth 1.1 and 802.11b back in 2001! But those interference and coordination issues were resolved, and Blueooth and Wi-Fi marched forward hand in hand, without any close association between the two trade groups behind the standards and branding, but with a lot of technology acquisitions and mergers on the part of companies that make Wi-Fi gear.
The Bluetooth SIG has been working for years to put Bluetooth on top of ultrawideband (UWB), which is still not readily available in the marketplace. UWB is always next year's big technology, and may be passed by except for applications like high-definition video streaming among a/v electronics. The SIG also announced support in Oct. 2007 for Bluetooth + 802.11, where a Bluetooth device could initiate high-speed transfers using 802.11 (yes, Wi-Fi, but not by that name; no partnership there). Bluetooth plus UWB is likely not available until 2009 at this point; BT and Wi-Fi, not until perhaps 2010. (See my article, "Bluetooth to Add Wi-Fi with UWB Delays in Mind," 2007-10-31.)
It's hard to see how Ozmo builds a place in this infrastructure, even with higher bandwidth, and what Ozmo says is lower power use and a lower cost for their chips, because laptop and desktop makers will need to buy into the Intel/Ozmo ecosystem. The demand for this kind of technology is typically driven by users who buy one component and need their computer to interface with it.
With Ozmo and Intel apparently planning to debut the Wi-Fi chips and driver support next year, it seems like a multi-year process to figure out whether Ozmo can evolve a competitive position to Bluetooth, even as Bluetooth is estimated to be embedded in over 1.2b cell phones by 2012.