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Wireless Bluetooth moves into the fast lane with latest version

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG)—comprised of companies including IBM and Nokia that sell technology that uses or relies on Bluetooth short-range radio frequency (RF) for sending and receiving wireless info—today in Tokyo put  its stamp of approval on a new, more versatile version of the wireless standard that will give Bluetooth-enabled mobile gadgets the oomph needed to for the first time be able to transfer digital picture, video and other large files between cell phones, laptops and other devices.

The new Bluetooth Version 3.0 + High Speed standard and specification will show makers of cell phones, computers and other wireless electronics how to design these devices so that they can send and receive data using either the Bluetooth or 802.11 protocols using an 802.11 protocol adaptation layer. (Many laptops use Wi-Fi radios that use the 802.11 protocol because it can send large amounts of data over long distances, unlike Bluetooth.)

With devices built according to the new Bluetooth SIG-approved standard, a device manufacturer could make their product so that it can send and receive data using either the Bluetooth or 802.11 wireless data transfer protocols (also sometimes known as Wi-Fi), says Peter Cook, Bluetooth SIG's senior program manager and one of the writers of the 3.0 specification. Although the 802.11 high-speed radio can be more taxing on a battery than the classic Bluetooth radio, the high speed radio is also able to send data faster.  The power optimization benefits of high-speed Bluetooth lets applications using 802.11 for connectivity use just a burst of 802.11 power to send data and then shut off the radio until it is needed again—so it works efficiently and without draining power. 

Bluetooth's strength, since it was introduced in 1998, has been its ability to synchronize and transfer data (typically music files, calendar and contact info) between devices across short distances—typically less than 30 feet (10 meters) or so—without sapping a lot of battery power. But, since Bluetooth radios and receivers conserve this power in part through the use of slow data transfer speeds—no more than 3 megabits per second—devices using only Bluetooth haven't been used to transfer the larger video and other multimedia digital in demand today. Bluetooth Version 3.0 + High Speed devices will be able to transfer data at up to 24 megabits per second by making use of 802.11.

Wireless chip manufacturers Atheros Communications, Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif.; Broadcom Corporation in Irvine, Calif.; and Cambridge, U.K.-based CSR (all members of Bellevue, Wash., -based Bluetooth SIG) are planning to offer products that use the new standard within the next year. (Bluetooth SIG estimates there are more than two billion Bluetooth devices in use today.)

Image ©iStockphoto.com/ Ed Hidden

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