LAS VEGAS Move over, Bluetooth. Thomson tapped proprietary technology from startup Kleer Corp. (Cupertino, Calif.) in an exclusive deal to drive the wireless headsets for its latest MP3 player. Kleer is said to be one of a handful of companies aiming to outgun Bluetooth in performance, power or cost.
Kleer's KLR3012 RF audio module delivers data rates of about 2.4 Mbits/second over 10 meters using the 2.4 GHz band. The 10x10mm module costs roughly the same as a Bluetooth chip but draws about 30mW on average, a fraction of Bluetooth's power consumption.
The Kleer module is based on a sub-sampling rate radio architecture that emerged from research by the company's chief technology officer, Ralph Mason, while working at Carlton University in Toronto. The chip uses a high-Q filtering technique to sample below the Nyquist rate, said Ron Glibbery, the company's vice president of marketing.
Kleer claims its module enables wireless headsets with ten hours battery life. Thomson announced at the Consumer Electronics Show Sunday (Jan. 7) it will ship this summer its Jet Stream MP3 player using the Kleer module.
"Bluetooth was our primary option," said Sean Sharpe, a product planning manager for Thomson, speaking at a CES press conference here.
"There are several chip companies out there trying to compete with Bluetooth with variations on Wi-Fi, 900 MHz radios and other approaches," Sharpe said.
Thomson chose Kleer because it offered good audio quality, had lower power consumption than Bluetooth and offered a unique multicasting feature. The Kleer wireless signal can be picked up by as many as four headsets in its ten meter range. That feature will be useful in future wireless home theater products, Sharpe said.
"You are not pairing devices as required by Bluetooth, and that makes things easier," said Sharpe. "For instance when you come inside wearing your MP3 player you can just turn it off and turn your wireless stereo on and get the signal. It's easy," he said.
About a year ago an Apple insider said the company had seen some novel wireless technology. "At last, there's something doing what Bluetooth has been promising," said the Apple employee who asked not to be named.
However, Apple has yet to roll out wireless headsets for its iPod. Meanwhile, Thomson has snagged an exclusive deal to be the only user of the Kleer module for MP3 players until the third quarter of 2007, Sharpe said.
"We believe wireless headsets will be standard in MP3 players in the next year and a half," said Glibbery of Kleer.
"We are working on a second generation technology that will have another factor of two advantage in power consumption over Bluetooth," Glibbery said. The company will release in the third quarter a new product based on changes to its protocol layer, he added.