SAN JOSE, Calif. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has released its version 3.0 specification supporting data rates up to 24 Mbits/second over a shared 802.11 radio, a small but significant step toward the technology becoming a de facto protocol for ad hoc, secure wireless peer-to-peer networks.
The group is planning an ultra low power version of its technology that could be released in about nine months to further expand its reach. It aims to decide this summer whether to make ultrawideband (UWB) a transport for a future 200 Mbit/s version.
Bluetooth is just one of a host of technologies aimed at linking PCs, TVs and mobile devices into personal area networks that are easy to use and have plenty of bandwidth. Others include UWB, 60 GHz networks and versions of Wi-Fi backed by companies including startup Ozmo and Intel's My Wi-Fi program.
The 3.0 spec approved at a meeting in Tokyo Tuesday (April 21) essentially brings the Bluetooth ability to set up secure peer-to-peer connections to a higher bandwidth 802.11 link. Atheros, Broadcom and CSR are upgrading software to support the spec on their chips mainly focused on mobile handsets and MP3 players.
The Bluetooth 3.0 capability will initially appear mobile handsets. It will let them synch multiple files, send bigger files and even download or stream images or video to suitably equipped PCs, TVs and printers.
It could take three or more months to finish work on some of the audio/video profiles for the new spec. Systems supporting version 3.0 may not ship for nine to twelve months said Mike Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.
Chip makers are not turning new silicon for the capability which they are focusing initially at smart phones. For example, module makers will put existing Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chips from CSR onto single 9.5x9.5mm cards along with new software to enable the faster transfers, said Robin Heydon, a standards consultant for the company.
"Effectively you are enabling existing functions easier and more efficiently," said Heydon. "One of the hardest things for vendors these days is software integration because you can have hundreds of companies supplying software for a handset and that becomes an integration nightmare," he said.
Broadcom will enable the 3.0 techniques across all its Bluetooth products, including combination chips that merge FM radio, Wi-Fi and/or GPS on a single device. Such combo chips now represent half of Broadcom's sales in the area, said Craig Ochikubo, general manager of Broadcom's wireless personal area networking group.
"The intention is to deploy this broadly across our mobile and PC products," said Ochikubo. "Expanding into higher data rate apps is really the next step for PAN technology," he said.
Sharp said it will use Bluetooth chips from Broadcom in one of its digital TVs, but most of the chips will wind up in smart phones and feature phones, he said.
Atheros is so far keeping its Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules separate, but it does see version 3.0 getting into PCs soon. With version 3.0, users could ride a Wi-Fi network at a local caf to send files directly to each other's notebooks or cellphones without needing to go through an access point or have a Wi-Fi account, said Kevin Hayes, a technical fellow at Atheros who helped develop and test the spec.