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Wireless developers seek to expand Bluetooth

Wireless developers plan to work together to meld Bluetooth, the short-range technology that links cell phones and cordless headsets, with an emerging technology designed to beam video and other large content short distances between TVs, home entertainment systems and computers, the Associated Press reported.

The plan comes at a crucial time for Bluetooth. After years of hype, the technology is finally becoming a mainstream feature on mobile devices, only to be met with predictions it may soon be supplanted by other technologies and disappear.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group, a 3400-member group whose backers include Nokia, Motorola and Intel, said it has begun working with two industry bodies developing rival versions of the technology commonly referred to as ultra-wideband, or UWB.

The discussions with the WiMedia Alliance and the UWB Forum are very preliminary, so it is unclear whether the collaboration will produce an integrated platform combining Bluetooth with UWB. There are also issues such as UWB regulatory approvals and signal interference with other wireless technologies that need resolution.

While both technologies are used for connections of 10 yards or less to create so-called “personal area networks” between various devices, the similarities mostly end there. There’s little relation in terms of the actual technology, but the most significant difference is speed.

The most common type of Bluetooth transmits data at speeds of up to 1Mb/s while a next-generation version starting to hit the market offers up to 3Mb/s allows speeds of 100Mb/s and higher, making it a far more effective way to transmit, for example, a video signal from a digital video recorder to a flat-screen monitor or a laptop without wires.

That means a UWB signal has enough bandwidth to handle a HDTV program, which can require 22Mb/s of bandwidth for real-time streaming and viewing, plus a few other tasks at the same time.

One major goal, according to the Bluetooth group, is to enable short-range wireless compatibility between today’s Bluetooth-enabled devices and machines with UWB, which are not expected to hit the market until at least next year.

Bluetooth’s advantages, compared with UWB, include its market penetration and increasingly recognizable brand name, as well as its low power-consumption, which makes it perfect for cell phones and headsets with limited battery life.

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