Bluetooth will have to choose a UWB version

Everything looks good for Bluetooth. This week, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced that 5 million Bluetooth chips are shipping every week, and the group has an alliance with the groups promoting the up-and-coming technology, ultrawide-band (UWB).

But there could be problems before we have a faster Bluetooth based on new technology.

How does Bluetooth get faster?
UWB is a completely different technology from the current 2.4GHz Bluetooth. However, the SIG plans to use it as a fast channel alongside existing Bluetooth communications.

"We're going to have UWB as a high-speed channel," said Mike Foley, the head of the Bluetooth SIG. "At first, there will be two radios stuck next to each other." For instance, a smartphone would connect to a PC by Bluetooth, and then open up a UWB channel to transfer pictures or other large files, he explained.

Bluetooth helps UWBAs we have noted, Bluetooth brings a lot to UWB. Bluetooth already has file transfer software, and a security model, which could be implemented very quickly on top of UWB, said Foley. The WiMedia group of UWB vendors agree: "Bluetooth has some compelling profiles," said Kursat Kimyacioglu, director of wireless business development at Philips, and vice president of the WiMedia group, "including printing and file transfer."

There are suggestions that fast Bluetooth, with the software head start, may beat Wireless USB to the market (see Wireless USB still has trouble ahead). Most timelines we have seen suggest a convergence platform which will complete in about 12 months, and products on the market in 2007.

The big question: which UWB?
So far the Bluetooth SIG has scrupulously avoided the big question. If it implements a fast UWB channel, it will have to choose a UWB technology, but which? WiMedia and Freescale's DS-UWB are at daggers drawn, though both are making nice to Bluetooth.

"Bluetooth will have to choose a physical layer," said Kimacioglu.

"We want to stay neutral on that debate," said a wary Anders Edlund, marketing director of the Bluetooth SIG. "All the major players are in the Bluetooth SIG, so it will be hard to select a technology."

He accepted that the SIG would have to come down one way or another in the end: "We have to hope that the industry has the sense to sort it out," he said.

WiMedia, with its industry backing and the Wireless USB connection, might seem the obvious choice. "WiMedia will have certification and interoperability tests," said Kimacioglu. By contrast, he said, Freescale will have just one solution.

Bluetooth-UWB versus Wireless USB?
So far Bluetooth's efforts to keep a neutral stance are welcomed by Freescale, and its UWB Forum promoter group, who are very vocal in their support for Bluetooth. A UWB Bluetooth over DS-UWB would give Freescale something to stack against the WiMedia group's Wireless USB.

If things polarise that way, one could envisage a conflict between Wireless USB and fast Bluetooth. The two will overlap, in providing fast wireless links to mobile devices.

This is something that WiMedia vendors do not want. Kimacioglu can see plenty of uses for Bluetooth profiles on UWB, alongside Wireless USB, and WiMedia members tend to stress the convergence of both.

"The addition of a WiMedia compatible UWB radio [to a Bluetooth phone] is a great value proposition for handset manufacturers," said Billy Brackenridge product system architect of WiMedia member Staccato Communications, in Incisor, the Bluetooth magazine. "They can get rid of the conventional USB cable and provide a much easier to use USB connection to the PC. As is the case with Bluetooth, applications written to use USB will work unmodified with wireless USB."

It won't be simple
Some vendors want to keep it complicated: "It's not the case that the Bluetooth companies feel they have to take one Bluetooth flavour over another," Bruce Watkins, chief executive of UWB maverick Pulse-Link, told Incisor, the Bluetooth magazine. "It's also not the case that you need to have just one version of UWB, because no one version is optimal for all applications."

So Bluetooth on UWB is a positive step, but not enough to sort out the UWB wars.