Bluetooth to Capitalize on Wi-Fi, UWB

A new architecture currently in development will allow Bluetooth to harness Wi-Fi and eventually UWB to achieve greater data transfer rates.
Posted September 11, 2008

Naomi Graychase

Naomi Graychase

The Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group) announced earlier this year that it would pursue a new method of radio substitution that would allow for the wireless transfer of large format entertainment data, such as music, video, and photos, between Bluetooth-enabled devices at short range. The new architecture, which SIG called “imminent” in a February announcement at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, allows Bluetooth to harness Wi-Fi to achieve greater data transfer rates.

The new specification, Alternate MAC/PHY (AMP), will allow the existing Bluetooth protocols, profiles, security, and pairing to be used in consumer devices while achieving faster throughput by employing momentary use of 802.1x when it's present in the device.

“This is the wireless technology equivalent of low-hanging fruit,” said Michael Foley, Ph.D., executive director, the Bluetooth SIG. “What we’re doing is taking classic Bluetooth connections—using Bluetooth protocols, profiles, security, and other architectural elements—and allowing it to jump on top of the already present 802.11 radio, when necessary, to send bulky entertainment data, faster. When the speed of 802.11 is overkill, the connection returns to normal operation on a Bluetooth radio for optimal power management and performance.”

The new enhancements have been called a "Swiss Army Knife" by ABI Research. "It will be a software upgrade for devices equipped with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chips, allowing Bluetooth to utilize Wi-Fi when larger files must be transmitted. Once that transfer is complete, it will fall back to standard Bluetooth," said ABI Research senior analyst Douglas McEuen in a press release issued today.


The long-term goal is to enable Bluetooth to work with ultra-wideband (UWB) as an integrated solution, for an even faster transfer of larger files, such as streaming video.

In 2006, the Bluetooth SIG announced the selection of the WiMedia Alliance brand of ultra wideband technology as a high-speed channel for Bluetooth technology. According to the SIG, development work continues between the two organizations in advance of widespread ultra wideband technology adoption, which is expected to be co-located in many Bluetooth devices. In the meantime, however, the SIG says it will make use of IEEE 802.11, a technology that is already present in many of the devices demanding greater speeds.

"The SIG is trying to position Bluetooth as a kind of catch-all platform that can do everything," said McEuen. “Classic Bluetooth will take care of your voice applications. AMP Bluetooth will allow you that extra kick when you need it. And further down the road, high-speed Bluetooth with UWB will offer huge data rates."

According to the SIG, this two-phased roadmap for higher speeds—first Wi-Fi, then UWB—is designed to allow for a steady evolution in Bluetooth devices utilizing the presence of Wi-Fi today while continuing preparations for the presence of ultra wideband in the near future.

“We’re committed to speedy wireless personal area network connections and we’ll always be looking for the best near-term and long-term way to accomplish that,” says Foley. “The greatness of a generic alternate radio architecture being developed is that it’s adaptable.”

“The Bluetooth SIG is taking a logical step by applying Bluetooth protocols over an existing 802.11 radio to achieve efficient transfers of high data throughput applications," said Flint Pulskamp, wireless and mobile analyst at IDC in a Bluetooth SIG press release. "Since Bluetooth and 802.11 already have significant traction in mobile devices, this coupled solution could prove to be an efficient interim solution, as the Bluetooth SIG continues to develop UWB for the future."

Currently, there are nearly two billion Bluetooth-enabled products already on the market. The core specification enabling the Alternate MAC/PHY is expected to be published to members in mid-2009. ABI speculates that the first products incorporating the AMP-enhanced Bluetooth may be in the market in early 2009, however. For UWB, ABI says a more likely time frame is the end of 2009 or early 2010 for the very first sample products.

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet and Ultrawidebandplanet.

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