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Bluetooth piggybacks on Wi-Fi as UWB uptake crawls

Posted: 14 Feb 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Wi-Fi? Bluetooth? UWB?

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) will provide a mechanism for its protocol to ride on top of 802.11n networks while its longer-term plan to create a version 3.0 based on UWB technology moves slowly forward. The move appears to be a recognition of the market's rapid adoption of .11n and the relative slowness of UWB to gain traction in the face of several technical and business issues.

The Bluetooth group will develop a so-called "alternative MAC/PHY" architecture that will let Bluetooth protocols, profiles and other high-level network functions ride on .11n, UWB or any network. The core spec for that architecture will be published to members by mid-2009, but the SIG did not say exactly when any Bluetooth products for .11n will be ready.

Expedient move
The move, announced at this week's World Mobile Congress, appears to be one of expediency. Bluetooth is under pressure to bolster data rates in a market of an increasing number of alternatives for broadband personal area networks.

The group was already developing for its Bluetooth 3.0 a version of its technology that would be independent of its current MAC and PHY transports. Doing that in such a way that the protocols could ride on any networknot just UWBis a natural step, especially in the face of the slow market progress of UWB.

"We're committed to speedy wireless personal area network connections, and we'll always be looking for the best near-term and long-term way to accomplish that," said Mike Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG in a prepared statement. "The greatness of a generic alternate radio architecture being developed is that it's adaptable," he added.

The Bluetooth group had announced in 2006 its plans for a version 3.0 to be based on UWB to leap to data rates of a gigabit per second and beyond. However, since that time, many UWB backers have been dogged by initial products that have struggled to get to data rates of 100Mbit/s and still hit low cost targets. The USB Implementers Forum has made progress certifying products compliant with its UWB-based wireless USB specification, but it is more than a year behind its initial targets for hitting the market.

Regulatory hitches
At the last Consumer Electronics Show, Panasonic engineers said they will not support UWB but wait for 60GHz radios, which promise bandwidth of up to 5Gbit/senough to carry uncompressed video. UWB is still troubled by regulatory issues, which require using different parts supporting different frequencies in different markets, they said.

Meanwhile, dozens of products have been certified as compliant with the 802.11n standard. At the recent International Solid State Circuits Conference, Atheros showed what it claimed was the first of a coming wave of integrated .11n parts that put baseband and radio components on a single die to shave costs.

"The combination of Bluetooth technology and [Wi-Fi] certainly fills a void currently left by UWB," said Fiona Thomson, a senior analyst with market watcher IMS Research. "However, UWB has its own advantages and we envisage, as soon as UWB is mature enough, it will take [Wi-Fi's] place," she added.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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