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Nokia announces Bluetooth rival

Wibree technology offers low-power alternative

The ultra low-power Wibree technology developed by Nokia will become part of the Bluetooth specification under an agreement reached by the Wibree Forum and the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG).

Bluetooth has been used mostly to connect larger devices such as headsets, keyboards and mice to stereos and PCs. With the help of Wibree the technology will be able to connect much smaller devices, such as watches or sensors attached to the body. Wibree uses the same 2.4GHz frequency as Bluetooth.

"We look at this as an addition to the Bluetooth family of specifications, enabling a new class of devices that Bluetooth isn't really suitable for today," said Michael Foley, executive director of Bluetooth SIG.

In October 2006, Nokia's research arm announced the development of Wibree and the establishment of an industry forum, including Broadcom and STMicroelectronics NV, to define a specification.

But after forming, the companies, many of them members of Bluetooth SIG, favoured having ultra low-power devices supported in Bluetooth, according to Harri Tulimaa, head of Nokia Technology Out-Licensing. "They didn't want to complete an entirely new technology," he said.

The goal is to develop specifications for two types of ultra low-cost implementations: a single-mode implementation for watches, sensors and other tiny devices to communicate with each other; and a dual-mode implementation to communicate with both single-mode and traditional Bluetooth devices.

The core specification for ultra low-power technology is already well advanced, according to Tulimaa. "We've started prototype interoperability testing between three companies and have transmitted packets over the air."

Ultra low-power Bluetooth will have a range up to 10 metres, similar to the Bluetooth Class 2 specification, which requires more energy. High-power Bluetooth Class 3 has a range up to 100 metres. A button-cell battery powered device, equipped with ultra low-power Bluetooth technology, will be designed to have an average operating life of one year, according to Tulimaa. It can transmit data at a speed up to 1Mbps.

Foley doesn't view low-power Bluetooth as a competitor to Near Field Communications (NFC), another short-range wireless technology. NFC is designed primarily to help people make “contactless transactions,” he said.

Bluetooth SIG expects to finalise ultra low-power Bluetooth specifications in the first half of 2008, with the first products, most likely to be single-mode devices, to hit the market in the second half of the year.

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