SAN JOSE, Calif. Backers of the low-power Wibree wireless standard are taking their technology under the umbrella of the Bluetooth Special Interest group in a move that could help reduce the fragmentation in personal area networks. Bluetooth members will provide a final peer review of the Wibree spec before it is ratified as a mode of Bluetooth before June 2008.
The move could help Bluetooth extend its reach while reducing the requirements in time and cost for systems makers wanting to support Wibree. OEMs such as Dell Computer have been lobbying Wibree-inventor Nokia to help consolidate efforts in PANs.
"From a practical standpoint this means the Wibree spec for ultra low power wireless devices like watches, heart rate meters and sensors will be finalized in the Bluetooth SIG," said Mike Foley, executive director of the SIG.
Harii Tulimaa, head of technology licensing at Nokia, cautioned observers on Tuesday (June 12) not to expect end-user products using a merged Bluetooth/Wibree profile to show up before 2009. The Bluetooth SIG does not expect chip production to ramp from semiconductor suppliers until the second half of 2008, so handsets and other consumer products using the technology will follow several quarters later.
The Ultra Low Power (ULP) standard will be published by the SIG in sections, with profiles following the core protocols. Foley said many Bluetooth profiles, such as those for voice and streaming data, will not be ported to the ULP version if applications don't make sense.
The group sees little overlap with either broader industrial sensor nets like ZigBee and RFID or the Near-Field Communications standard. Foley said most industrial applications require mesh topologies and ranges in excess of 10 meters. If industrial users were to shift to open RF standards, the market potential of those specs could exceed the consumer market, but Foley said "I'm a bit skeptical that many of these verticals will abandon some of the proprietary industrial protocols that exist today."
Wibree makes minor changes in the media access control layer of Bluetooth to deliver data rates of up to a Mbit/second while requiring just 10 to 40 percent of Bluetooth's power consumption. Both specs serve a similar range of about three meters, although Bluetooth can deliver up to 3 Mbits/s. Thus Wibree and Bluetooth are "a good fit architecturally," said Foley.
He expects the SIG will first issue a single-mode Wibree spec for devices such as watches, toys, consumer health care devices and sensors. Later it will follow up with a dual-mode spec that would require minor hardware modifications to the classic Bluetooth spec to support the lower-power Wibree. Those changes should require less than a square millimeter of silicon, Foley said.
Although the merger means the Wibree spec will go through a review by the SIG, it is not expected to result in major changes to the spec or significant delays in rolling out products. Wibree developers may see some new profiles emerge and be asked to develop a broader set of tools that support full Bluetooth capabilities.
"I'd imagine any changes [in the Wibree spec] will be relatively small," said Foley.
Products could ship before the end of 2008. The Wibree group had not shipped any products yet, although it had produced prototype hardware to test out its specs.
"I don't think anyone's plans will be greatly delayed by this move. We will hit pretty close to what [Wibree backers] were planning" for first shipments, said Foley.
The Bluetooth name and logo will replace the name and logo of Wibree, effectively broadening the market for Bluetooth. "We have been looking to expand the set of user scenarios we can address," Foley said.
In addition, a handful of Wibree backers will join the Bluetooth SIG. Companies who contributed to the Wibree spec include Broadcom, Casio, CSR, Epson, ItoM, Logitech, Nordic Semiconductor, ST Microelectronics, Suunto, Taiyo Yuden Co., Ltd. and Texas Instruments