Feature Article

January 02, 2013

Ultra-low-power Wireless Makes a Connection

Just about every mobile phone has a Bluetooth transceiver. You use it to connect to your wireless headset. Most new cars offer a Bluetooth option for safer driving. Computers also incorporate the Bluetooth chip.

Bluetooth is a connection-oriented protocol that is designed to handle continuous streaming of data at relatively high speeds. This makes it perfect for connecting wireless headsets to cell phones. Most changes and improvements to the Bluetooth specification have concentrated on boosting the data rate. The basic rate (BR) enables synchronous and asynchronous connections at up to 720 kbps. Bluetooth Version 2.0 (2004) added an extended data rate (EDR) of 3 Mbps (in practice more like 2.1 Mbps). Bluetooth 3.0 (2009) added a high-speed (HS) data capability of up to 24 Mbps by using an alternative MAC/PHY (AMP) that communicates over a co-located 802.11 link. Despite some clever engineering, the quest for higher speed necessarily resulted in higher power consumption and this resulting in having to recharge your headset more often.

Bluetooth Smart products represent a quantum leap for Bluetooth technology. Devices using ultra-low-power wireless technology are expected to consume a fraction of the power that current devices use. This could allow the device to operate anywhere from a few months to a year.

ABI Research is a market intelligence company specializing in global technology markets. By 2016, they expect that the annual revenue for ultra-low-power wireless connectivity will to grow to over $2 billion. Peter Cooney, the Wireless Connectivity Practice Director said, “Bluetooth Smart has seen strong growth in applications such as sports and fitness equipment, in many cases supplanting proprietary technologies. Bluetooth Smart device shipments are expected to grow to over 1 Billion units per annum in the next five years as manufacturers of devices such as remote controls, home automation sensors, and PC accessories embrace the ultra-low-power capability of Bluetooth Smart and take advantage of the massive ecosystem of Bluetooth devices.”

Another ultra-low-power wireless connectivity device is the Texas Instrument (TI) ANT. It provides a low power solution for short range wireless communications. ANT already ships with Sony Ericsson smartphones and has lead the way in sports and fitness equipment.

There are progressively more devices, not just mobile phones that are including Bluetooth technology. According to Tech.163, a Chinese gadget news site, Apple may be in the process of developing its own smart watch that connects to Apple devices via Bluetooth.

According to ABI Research, in point-to-point applications including TV remote controls, wireless mice, and keyboards, Bluetooth Smart will prevail due largely to the high penetration rates of Bluetooth Smart Ready in many consumer devices.

While there the distance is short range on these ultra-low-power wireless devices, you do not need to have your keyboard, mouse or remote control that far away. The low power consumption is definitely a plus and a market that will continue to grow rapidly as new wireless devices hit the market.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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