SAN JOSE, Calif. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group will provide a mechanism to let its protocol to ride on top of 802.11 networks while its longer term plan to create a version 3.0 based on ultrawideband technology moves slowly forward. The move appears to be a recognition of the market's rapid adoption of Wi-Fi and the relative slowness of UWB to gain traction in the face of several technical and business issues.
The Bluetooth group will develop a so-called "alternative MAC/PHY" architecture that will let Bluetooth protocols, profiles and other high-level network functions ride on .11abg, UWB or any network. The core spec for that architecture will be published to members by mid-2009, but the SIG did not say exactly when any Bluetooth products for .11 will be ready.
The move, announced at the GSM World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, appears to be one of expediency. Bluetooth is under pressure to bolster data rates in a market of an increasing number of alternatives for broadband personal area networks.
The group was already developing for its Bluetooth 3.0 a version of its technology that would be independent of its current media access control and physical layer transports. Doing that in such a way that the protocols could ride on any network—not just UWB—is a natural step, especially in the face of the slow market progress of UWB.
"We're committed to speedy wireless personal area network connections, and we'll always be looking for the best near-term and long-term way to accomplish that," said Mike Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG in a prepared statement. "The greatness of a generic alternate radio architecture being developed is that it's adaptable," he added.
The Bluetooth group had announced in 2006 its plans for a version 3.0 to be based on ultrawideband to leap to data rates of a Gbit/second and beyond. However since that time, many UWB backers have been dogged by initial products that have struggled to get to data rates of 100 Mbits/s and still hit low cost targets. The USB Implementers Forum has made progress certifying products compliant with its UWB-based wireless USB specification, but it is more than a year behind its initial targets for hitting the market.
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Panasonic engineers said they will not support UWB but wait for 60 GHz radios which promise bandwidth of up to 5 Gbits/s—enough to carry uncompressed video. UWB is still troubled by regulatory issues which require using different parts supporting different frequencies in different markets, they said.
Meanwhile, oodles of products have been certified as compliant with the 802.11abg standards. At last week's International Solid State Circuits Conference, Atheros showed what it claimed was the first of a coming wave of integrated .11n parts that put baseband and radio components on a single die to shave costs.
"The combination of Bluetooth technology and [Wi-Fi] certainly fills a void currently left by UWB," said Fiona Thomson, a senior analyst with market watcher IMS Research (London). "However, UWB has its own advantages and we envisage, as soon as UWB is mature enough, it will take [Wi-Fi's] place," she added.
Although it is pressing for more bandiwdth, the Bluetooth group is currently only enabling its protocols to ride on 802.11abg. Support for the high speed .11n version may be added later, but is not on the road map now, a spokesman said.