Texas Instruments and Broadcom will develop chips for low-power devices based on a new short-range wireless Bluetooth specification.

The chip makers are jumping on board after Nokia decided to roll its low-power Wibree technology into the new ultra low-power (ULP) Bluetooth specification.

While Bluetooth has been used mostly to connect larger devices such as headsets, keyboards and mice to stereos and PCs, the new ultra low-power specification aims to connect much smaller button-cell battery-powered devices, like watches or sensors attached to a user's body. ULP Bluetooth uses the same 2.4GHz frequency as Bluetooth.

ULP Bluetooth will have a range up to 10 metres, similar to the Bluetooth Class 2 specification, but using less energy. A button-cell battery powered device, equipped with the technology, will have an average operating life of one year and transmit data at a speed up to 1 Mbit/s.

High-power Bluetooth Class 3 has a range up to 100 metres.

TI already produces chips for Bluetooth devices as well as devices based on the ZigBee ultra low-power specification.

The chipmaker views ULP Bluetooth and ZigBee as "complementary" technologies. ZigBee, for instance, is a mesh networking technology designed to support thousands of nodes with some restrictions on quality of service and latency, according to the ZigBee website. By comparison, ULP Bluetooth is an ad hoc networking technology that links a smaller number of nodes to devices with high quality of service and low latency.

TI will develop chips for both types of ULP Bluetooth implementations: a single-mode implementation for watches, sensors and other tiny devices to communicate with each other; and a dual-mode implementation to communicate with both single-mode and traditional Bluetooth devices, such as handsets.

Broadcom also plans to offer chips that include ULP Bluetooth capability, a company executive said Tuesday. The company, which makes chips for mobile phones and other networking gear, is already hearing from customers interested in the technology and aims to ship products based on the current technology by the end of this year, said Scott Bibaud, vice president and general manager of Broadcom's wireless PAN (personal area network) business unit.

Broadcom believes the final standard will be similar enough to today's technology that pre-standard products can be upgraded through firmware, though bigger changes could be made, Bibaud said. The company is not planning any single-mode products, he said.

ULP Bluetooth is ideal for the kinds of devices that consumers don't like to change batteries on, such as a watch, Bibaud said. For example, a ULP Bluetooth watch could regularly download the time of day from a cellular network via the wearer's phone, automatically getting the correct time in any time zone, he said.