Internet appliances are a new and exciting growth market, born from the success of the Web and the Internet. These devices help individuals, small businesses and larger enterprises get connected in a simple and cost-effective manner. In most cases, Internet appliances are configured as plug-and-play devices that are ready to use-they come with software installed and they require minimal configuration to get them up and running. Typically, they are administered via a browser or other Web-enabled means, making setup and maintenance trivial in comparison with network servers. They can be used and appreciated by users with modest expertise and their advanced features will delight more experienced users and system administrators.
However, Internet appliances often contain overlapping features and can be implemented to handle a wide spectrum of tasks and services or both. There are Web appliances, e-mail appliances, domain name and dial-up appliances, firewalls and e-commerce products. Companies developing and deploying Internet appliances require a common thread that will allow them to communicate effectively and transparently without being prohibitively expensive.
Bluetooth integration is the technology that will enable just that. Essentially, Bluetooth is the new global specification for short-range wireless connectivity, allowing portable and stationary communication devices to be connected without unnecessary and cumbersome cabling. Mobile phones, mobile computers, handheld devices, desktop computers, fax machines, keyboards and other digital devices-such as Internet appliances-can be easily interconnected using a wireless Bluetooth connection.
The standardization effort is being led by the five founding companies of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG): Ericsson, IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Nokia and Toshiba Corp. They were recently joined by 3Com Corp., Lucent Technologies Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Motorola Inc. Together, they form the promoter group of the Bluetooth SIG and are supported by hundreds of other technology leaders.
Basically, Bluetooth radio technology provides a universal bridge to existing data networks, a peripheral interface and a mechanism to form small private ad hoc groupings of connected devices away from fixed network infrastructures. Designed to work in a noisy RF environment, the Bluetooth radio uses a fast acknowledgment and frequency-hopping scheme to make the link robust.
Bluetooth radio modules avoid interference from other signals by hopping to a new frequency after transmitting or receiving a packet. Compared with other systems operating in the same frequency band, the Bluetooth radio typically hops faster and uses shorter packets. This makes it more robust than other systems.
Short packages and fast hopping also limit the impact of domestic and professional microwave ovens. Forward error correction limits the effect of random noise on long-distance links. The encoding is optimized for an uncoordinated environment.
Bluetooth radios operate in the unlicensed ISM band at 2.4 GHz. A frequency-hop transceiver is applied to combat interference and fading. A shaped binary frequency modulation is applied to minimize transceiver complexity. The gross data rate is 1Mbit/second. A time-division duplex scheme is used for full-duplex transmission.
The Bluetooth baseband protocol is a combination of circuit and packet switching. Slots can be reserved for synchronous packets. Each packet is transmitted in a different hop frequency. A packet nominally covers a single slot, but can be extended to cover up to five. Bluetooth can support an asynchronous data channel, up to three simultaneous synchronous voice channels or a channel that simultaneously supports asynchronous data and synchronous voice. Each voice channel supports a 64-kbit/s synchronous (voice) link. The asynchronous channel can support an asymmetric link of maximally 721 kbits/s in either direction while permitting 57.6 kbits/s in the return direction, or a 432.6-kbit/s symmetric link.
Most companies looking to implement a Bluetooth solution may have limited radio-frequency, antenna-implementation, power-management or RF shielding experience. A fundamental understanding of state-of-the-art technologies is mandatory.
It's also important that they have a firm grasp of the realities of the marketplace and the Bluetooth application's technological fit in that area. Because of those requirements, many companies are looking to outsource their Bluetooth engineering efforts to organizations such as Cadence Design Services, which recently acquired Diablo Research Group.
Due to the complexity of RF-to-digital host design, companies find it invaluable to have access to organizations that understand both the consumer electronics and RF portions of a complete design.
When partnering with a design services company, one way to measure this requisite business sense is to look at the backgrounds of key individuals within the company. Ideally, those people should have some background and solid business experience in successfully getting new products off the ground.
Finally, ensure that the Bluetooth-enabled Internet appliance is optimized for your company's needs. In order to monitor your project's progress, it is imperative to schedule regular meetings and updates, as well as frequent design conferences with the implementation team.
These sessions, dedicated to design review and progress reports, are critical for making decisions as the project moves forward. It's essential that the outsource organization have clear directions from you. A standard approval process for design modifications should be established at the beginning of the project.
When chosen and well-managed, the strategic use of knowledgeable Bluetooth resources can help you meet challenging objectives and give you a competitive advantage while maximizing every R&D dollar. A well-planned approach to outsourcing-including careful analysis of contract resources, documented project planning and continuous coordination throughout the life of a project-is essential. These steps can lead to the successful implementation of Bluetooth into almost every Internet appliance imaginable.