LONDON The Bluetooth Special Interest Group and Wibree forum are merging in a move that makes the Nokia pioneered ultra low power wireless technology part of the Bluetooth specification as an ultra low power Bluetooth technology.
Nokia started promoting the low power Bluetooth add-on last October with initial partners CSR plc, Broadcom Corp., Nordic Semiconductor AS, Epson, Suunto Oy and Taiyo Unden and has been finalizing the specification with these companies and ensuring interoperability as well as outlining user profiles.
Several companies have since joined the interoperability effort, importantly Bluetooth chip suppliers Texas Instruments and ST Microelectronics, as well as OEMs such as Casio and Logitech.
The SIG has had a low power option on its road- map for a while and has been looking at several options, but the decision means the Wibree technology, now re-named Ultra Low Power Bluetooth, will now become that option.
The original aim was to develop a standard and start deploying a low-power extension to the successful Bluetooth specification that would target short-range wireless sensor links.
The open industry initiative said the target would be to connect small, very low-power devices, such as watches and medical and sports sensors, to larger equipment such as mobile phones and PCs.
From the start, the idea was to create two implementation options – as an easily implemented extension to a classic Bluetooth radio, and as a stand-alone implementation, bringing very low power, sensor-type devices into the fold.
With its adoption by the Bluetooth SIG as Ultra Low Power (ULP) Bluetooth, the future of the dual-mode option is assured, and the specification should be integrated with Bluetooth chips, and thus reuse the Bluetooth RF section, without changes. There will be some extra functions in the Bluetooth baseband section, and a separate protocol stack.
The modulation scheme chosen is Gaussian minimum shift keying (GMSK) - a slightly different scheme to that deployed in Bluetooth that will achieve the stated one tenth power drain of Bluetooth in stand-alone applications.
The groups say the work of integrating the low power technology within the existing Bluetooth specification has started and the first version of the specification is anticipated during the first quarter of 2008.
The semiconductor partners are also expected to sample initial ULP Bluetooth silicon early next year.
Eric Janson, senior VP for global sales at Bluetooth chip pioneer CSR, said the Cambridge, England-based company is already planning to sample combo chips in the fourth quarter this year. "The initial applications are likely to be in mobile phones, watches and sports equipment," Janson told EE Times Europe .
"We wanted this to happen and are satisfied with the outcome. Clearly, Wibree as a standalone specification had a drawback with many potential users seeing it as a Nokia specification. Being part of the Bluetooth SIG, with the IP coming under its umbrella, will hugely increase adoption of and confidence in the low power technology," Janson added.
He said CSR would be in production with silicon for the combo chip by early next year. "But the Bluetooth SIG will clearly want to hold the ULP version to the same stringent interoperability constraints as it has followed with previous generations of Bluetooth chips, insisting on proving robustness and interoperability with silicon from three vendors, so we may not see products on the market until the first or second quarter next year."
He said that since most of the changes to a combo chip with what was the Wibree specification being in the protocol stack, and the size of the device much the same, as is the radio, the additional cost for a low power combo chip will be "10 to 20 Euro cents, maybe even less."
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 Ultra Low Power (ULP) standard will be published by the SIG in sections, with profiles following the core protocols. Mike Foley, executive director of the SIG, 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."
Loring Wirbel contributed to this story