Bluetooth, Ultra-Wideband Groups Cooperating on Future Direction

Linking a wireless technology of today with the higher data rates and reach of tomorrow’s wireless, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) and Ultra-wideband (UWB) group announced plans to collaborate and combine their technologies for the betterment of both.

The wireless groups said details have yet to be worked out and issues loom including interfacing with wireless LAN, WiMax and new cellular brands. The partnership would extend the life of Bluetooth while allowing backward compatibility for UWB, which benefits from Bluetooth features.

IDC senior analyst Celeste Crystal called the collaboration “a natural and necessary evolution of the market,” in a statement today.

“As consumers continue to increase the use of portable and digital media devices, the need for standardized, higher performance, low-power connectivity solutions becomes integral,” she said. “Leveraging Bluetooth technology’s established brand and traction in the consumer space with the higher data rate, lower power UWB technology should enable a faster time to market for next generation devices, and compliment the growing demand for connectivity.”

Survival by Standard

Despite its former resistance to an open industry standard, the Bluetooth SIG is embracing it now in order to enable its technology in products with higher wireless data rates.

“I feel that it is the responsibility of the industry to recognize synergies and limit fragmentation as much as possible,” said Bluetooth SIG executive director Michael Foley in a statement.

The group said the new partnership will maintain existing Bluetooth features such as low power, low cost and so-called “ad-hoc” connectivity, where devices can seamlessly connect via Bluetooth. The collaboration could also enable higher data throughput in Bluetooth, allowing, for example, streaming high quality video between portable devices, according to the Bluetooth SIG.

“Aligning the evolution of Bluetooth technology with UWB supports seamless mobility by enabling consumers to acquire and share media within the home, the auto, at work, and on the go,” said Motorola vice president of technology standards Miguel Pellon.

Bluetooth Grows Up

Gartner research vice president Phil Redman told TechNewsWorld the collaboration was somewhat expected and represents a departure form the previous approach of the Bluetooth SIG to develop its own proprietary system for the wireless technology’s upgrade.

Redman said although a blending of the two wireless technologies makes sense — including compatibility in chipsets and other hardware components — there are still challenges, including some fragmentation within the UWB.

“Not to mention the difficulty of putting UWB in handheld devices,” he added.

Still, Redman said despite its lackluster performance in North America, Bluetooth has found significant success worldwide and has both matured and improved its certification process and interoperability.

“[North American CDMA] providers hadn’t jumped on the Bluetooth bandwagon,” he said. “Now they are, especially in the upper end, where [Bluetooth] is becoming more of a standard feature.”

Stemming Wireless Standards

For its part, the UWB indicated its “vision of an open architecture” would be well suited for future wireless with the additional Bluetooth technology and support.

“We know product designers today are growing overwhelmed by the continued proliferation of wireless standards,” said a statement from UWB Forum executive director Mike McCamon. “By working closely with leaders in the wireless market, we intend to simplify the playing field with scalable, interoperable standards. No one should want to invent an entirely new radio design for every single use case.”

The UWB outlined challenges ahead that include harmonizing worldwide regulatory approval; managing customer expectations of usability; and developing device designs that support secure connections for the continued mainstream adoption of wireless products.

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