Low Energy, Faster Bluetooth Products Imminent

In the 11 years since the creation of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, about 2 billion devices with the wireless technology have shipped globally. The products range from hands-free headsets to medical devices, but Bluetooth innovations expected in 2009 should rapidly expand the number of devices available, Bluetooth officials said at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

The big innovations expected this year include a low-energy version of Bluetooth and a version using Wi-Fi at speeds 10 times faster than the 3Mbit/sec. speeds of the Bluetooth 2.1 standard, Bluetooth SIG spokeswoman Kari Hernandez said in an interview.

The low-energy version, called Wi-Bree, is expected to use one-tenth the power of existing Bluetooth and will be especially useful for medical applications, Hernandez said. With Wi-Bree, a medical device, such as a Bluetooth pedometer or heart rate monitor, could run off a tiny battery for months or even years.

The Bluetooth over Wi-Fi concept means that a device like a cell phone could easily send video files to a large display, taking advantage of speeds of 50Mbit/sec. or even faster, she said. The SIG is expected to ratify the specification by mid-year, meaning products could emerge by later in 2009. Another high-speed Bluetooth specification that relies on ultrawide band wireless technology has been delayed and isn't expected to emerge until later in 2009.

For products to take advantage of new Bluetooth specifications, Bluetooth chip makers such as CSR Plc and Broadcom Corp. would need to manufacture new chips that meet the new specifications and equipment makers would need to incorporate the chips into their devices.

The economic slowdown has hurt Bluetooth just as it has nearly every other product category, Hernandez noted. While the SIG in recent years had predicted shipments of 2 billion Bluetooth chips in a single year by 2010, that threshold now isn't expected to be reached until 2012.

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