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Bluetooth, UWB groups mesh efforts

Companies supporting the wireless networking technologies will work together to increase transfer speeds and diversity of products.

The hodgepodge of incompatible wireless networking technologies is about to get a bit smaller, as companies working on Bluetooth and ultrawideband are combining their efforts.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced Wednesday that it will work with ultrawideband developers to make their wireless networking technologies compatible. The move will allow developers and eventually consumers to take advantage of the high transfer rates of the ultrawideband technology--between 100 megabits and 200 megabits over a 10- to 20-foot range--on the broad array of devices that now include Bluetooth technology. Such devices include cell phones, other handhelds and cars.

There are a number of incompatible networking technologies, such as Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Bluetooth, ultrawideband and Near Field Communications, which have some similar uses but are better tuned for different situations. For example, Wi-Fi has a good range and throughput and can be used in most wireless networking situations, but it can consume a significant amount of battery life in portable devices. Bluetooth has low power consumption and is viewed as a better networking fit in devices such as cell phones.

Combining the efforts of Bluetooth and ultrawideband supporters is a natural evolution for the wireless networking market, analysts say.

The motivation behind the move came from several factors, said Michael Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. Key members of the group, including Intel and Motorola, are also key players in the development of the ultrawideband specification. And with the proliferation of digital media, it was apparent higher rates would be necessary to make it easier for consumers to send and receive data.

"Within the (special interest group), as we worked on our multiyear road map, it was apparent that higher rates would be necessary, then we debated whether to collaborate or combine," Foley said. "Protecting the install base was very important."

Foley added that as long as backward compatibility of current devices with Bluetooth technology could work with future versions that are ultrawideband-compatible, collaborating was the best move.

"Working on your own on obstacles...was proving, time-, resource- and money-intensive," Foley said.

The way it will work is that when current devices with Bluetooth "discover" other Bluetooth devices, they will also find that higher transfer rates--this is the ultrawideband technology--will be allowed, so data will flow faster.

Bluetooth technology is in a revival of sorts after high expectations of the networking technology were set by the media and the industry, which products using the technology were not able to meet. High chip prices also slowed its use, and gradually other technologies, such as Wi-Fi, filled the uses that Bluetooth was supposed to cover.

Chip prices have been falling to around $2 to $2.50, said Foley, thanks in large part to European cell phones that come with Bluetooth. European volumes helped lower chip prices and now Bluetooth in gaining share in the United States.

There are still details to be worked out in the agreement. The ultrawideband specification is still heatedly debated by two industry groups with opposing proposals for a standard. The Bluetooth SIG will work with both groups, but a single solution would be better, Foley said. Additionally, the ultrawideband specification still needs approval from European and Asian regulatory bodies.

Products are expected in a couple of years, said Foley, with the first likely being PC and display-related devices.