Roadmap boosts Bluetooth bandwidth

A three-year roadmap for Bluetooth short-range wireless technology will triple bandwidth and allow users to multicast signals to...

A three-year roadmap for Bluetooth short-range wireless technology will triple bandwidth and allow users to simultaneously multicast signals to seven others.

Michael Foley, technical director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), which releases the roadmap next week, said it would help show that Bluetooth has staying power.

At a time when pundits are extolling ultrawideband, an emerging technology that is far faster than Bluetooth, Foley said around three million Bluetooth-enabled products were currently shipping every week and that 1,700 Bluetooth products were already on the market, from keyboards and mice to earpieces for mobiles.

Under the roadmap, the SIG plans to complete the Bluetooth 2.0+EDR specification by the end of this year, increasing the data rate to 3mbps up from 1mbps in the current version 1.2. Compliant products, which will be backward-compatible with older versions, are expected to appear as early as June 2005.

A core software specification update will be completed in the first quarter of 2005, with a prototype complete in the fourth quarter of 2005. Foley said the update would focus on security, quality of service and power optimisation to improve things such as streaming applications and privacy enhancements.

Another core software specification update is expected by the end of 2005, with prototypes built by the fourth quarter of 2006. This update will allow the user of a Bluetooth device to multicast to seven other devices simultaneously. Currently, Bluetooth devices can communicate only one to one.

Multicasting will allow easier communications between groups involved in tasks such as multiplayer gaming. Other features in the 2006 core update include greater range and privacy. The current range for most implementations is up to 10 metres, with the greatest bandwidth available only within the 1m radius of the so-called personal area network.

While many Bluetooth applications focus on the consumer market, Foley said the 2005 core update would help improve Bluetooth-enabled sensor devices used in manufacturing settings.

Some analysts have belittled Bluetooth when comparing it with ultrawideband, but Foley believes the two can coexist. "I see a collaborative relationship between the technologies and organisations."

Foley said Bluetooth was the only proven wireless technology for personal area networks and that the roadmap should ensure it remained the leader in personal connectivity.

Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias said ultrawideband products could appear next year, with more implementations by 2007. Ultrawideband promises data rates of 1Gbps, about 100 times Bluetooth's current bandwidth.

"Bluetooth is here now, while low-cost ultrawideband is five years out," said Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney. He was, however, critical of current Bluetooth capabilities. "They are making improvements, but frankly it takes me far too long to use Bluetooth technology."

Dulaney said he was also troubled that many SIG members were competing firms that refused to perform independent interoperability testing or even to discuss standard user interfaces.

Matt Hamblen writes for Computerworld

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