The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has officially launched Bluetooth 3.0 with some big claims for the short-range wireless standard, mainly dramatically higher speed.

The biggest improvement for the new standard is speed, which jumps from a top transfer rate of 3Mbit/s found in the current Bluetooth standard to 24Mbit/s in 3.0, according to the Bluetooth SIG.

Faster speeds are accomplished because 3.0 employs the 802.11 radio protocol - basically allowing the Bluetooth protocol to piggyback on a Wi-Fi signal when transferring large amounts of data like videos, music and photos.

However, laboratory tested speeds don't always work out as advertised when used in everyday scenarios. Nevertheless, in an e-mail interview Michael Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG, stands behind the speed claims adding that the average user will experience transfer rates between 22-26Mbit/s with 3.0. This is a great advantage for devices that use an ad hoc connection, because it means you can transfer data between two devices at high speed without using a USB cable or logging on to a Wi-Fi network.

Other new and notable Bluetooth features include Unicast Connectionless Data giving 3.0 devices improved responsiveness and noticeably better battery life; and Enhanced Power Control which reduces the incidence of disconnects caused by movement such as placing a phone in pocket or purse.

From its All-Hand Meeting in Tokyo today, the Bluetooth SIG said manufacturers Athos, Broadcom and CSR are already shipping 3.0 computer chips to device manufacturers and 3.0-enabled gadgets should be on store shelves within the next 9-12 months. There's no word yet on what devices will be the first to benefit from the faster Bluetooth speeds. But Foley says he's seen interest from computer and cellular phone makers, and even Television manufacturers.

With faster speeds, Bluetooth 3.0 promises to help increase adoption among users and manufacturers; however 3.0 also faces competition from an emerging short-range standard: Wireless USB. Using ultrawideband (UWB) technology, Wireless USB claims blazing fast speeds of up to 480Mbps between two devices within ten feet of each other.

Yet there is a possibility that Bluetooth could adopt UWB since the technology's guardian, the WiMedia Alliance, last month transferred the specifications for the UWB radio to the Bluetooth SIG and the Wireless USB Promoter Group. "Should UWB prove viable," Foley said. "It could be considered for a version of Bluetooth technology down the road, but at this point it's too early to tell."

For the moment, Bluetooth has staked its future on the more familiar 802.11 protocol, and you can be sure that PC World will put Foley's speed claims to the test once 3.0 devices become available.