Bluetooth Gets Some Teeth

Wireless protocol backers banking on advances from CSR, Intersil, Itronix, others.

Ever-optimistic backers of Bluetooth are pinning their hopes on advances they claim will help make the nascent wireless protocol cheaper and easier to combine with other, more popular wireless platforms.

Five years into its development, the much-hyped Bluetooth still struggles for acceptance. But the latest improvements, due at the Bluetooth Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., this week, will be touted as significant steps toward mass acceptance and shown in the context of new products ranging from laptops to cell phones.

At the show, Cambridge Silicon Radio Inc. will team with top WLAN component manufacturer Intersil Corp. to introduce a mini-PCI card that supports the wireless LAN protocol 802.11b (also known as Wi-Fi) as well as Bluetooth.

CSRs card uses channel-skipping technology to avoid interference. Customers are already lining up, said officials at the Cambridge, England, company.

Competitor Silicon Wave Inc., of San Diego, which introduced coexistence plans with Intersil, of Palm Bay, Fla., last year, will demonstrate at the show its new implementation of Adaptive Frequency Hopping, which enables Bluetooth to seek empty portions of the band but does not enable Bluetooth to communicate with Wi-Fi.

Meanwhile, Itronix Corp., based in Spokane, Wash., next week will introduce the GoBook II, a ruggedized notebook that is among the first to integrate Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and a variety of WAN support. Itronix used its own technology and radio placement to avoid the interference issue, company officials said.

Thats typical of the evolution of Bluetooth coexistence, which is becoming increasingly proprietary in the absence of firm standards.

The wireless industry has been working for much of the year on ways to solve the problem of interference between 802.11b and Bluetooth, both of which operate on the 2.4GHz frequency band, which is not licensable. The IEEE last July formed a group to study the problem and has plans for so-called collaborative coexistence, a way for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to communicate with each other.

"My guess is that this will be an official IEEE-ratified recommended practice by July," said Jim Lansford, a member of the IEEE working group and vice president of business development at Mobilian Corp. "Because not everyone in the industry wants to [combine] Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, there was no reason to come up with a standard but rather just a recommended practice."

In fact, Mobilian, of Hillsboro, Ore., last year introduced its own coexistence module, called TrueRadio. The company plans to announce its first customer by the end of the year, possibly as soon as this week, Lansford said.

Touting efforts such as Itronixs, which includes built-in support for multiple platforms, customers—especially those who use their computers in the field—said integration is better than adding access via card slots.

"Any time you open the outer case, youre exposing the computer to contamination," said Don Ponikvar, senior vice president at Defense Group Inc., a Falls Church, Va., contractor that sets up wireless networks for several government organizations, including the FBI. The FBI requires laptops that work in extreme circumstances—during a flood or a chemical attack, for example. "You want to minimize that," Ponikvar said.

Ponikvar said its important to be able to run Bluetooth in conjunction with Wi-Fi and WANs. While the FBI is using ad hoc Wi-Fi networks in emergency drills, "a Bluetooth connection would allow you to do a connection to a detector system on scene without having to use a cable," he said. "Thats where were heading with Bluetooth."

Beyond interoperability, the Bluetooth industry hopes to garner more interest for the technology by making it less expensive.

CSR at the show will announce a single-chip radio for Code Division Multiple Access phones, which officials said will cost "far less than $5" per phone. Previous single-chip radios for phones have focused on the Global System for Mobile Communications phone market, which is prevalent in Europe. CSRs new radio will be tailored to the much-touted MSM5100 chip from Qualcomm Corp.