In an effort to address some of the problems that have slowed Bluetooths widespread adoption, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, which steers the development of the technology, this week will release its road map for the next three years.
The road map for the short-range wireless technology will highlight technological improvements and outline the SIGs plans to make it easier for manufacturers to create software, ensure that devices are interoperable and increase awareness, said Mike Foley, Bluetooth SIG executive and technical director, in Seattle.
The Bluetooth SIG will continue driving adoption in personal area networking, headsets, PCs and in-car communication and will make enhancements to extend the technologys reach into other applications such as multiplayer gaming, command and control scenarios, and audio, Foley said.
This year, the Bluetooth SIG is focused on speed. Broadcom Corp., of Irvine, Calif., announced last month a Bluetooth chip with EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) technology, which triples the bandwidth of Bluetooth from about 1M bps to 3M bps. The Bluetooth SIG predicts that consumer products with these speeds will be available in summer or fall of next year.
While this pales in comparison with WLAN (wireless LAN) speeds, the Bluetooth SIG said the increased speed could enable new functionality such as streaming high-fidelity audio.
Also next year, the SIG will turn its focus to improving multiprofile scenarios, streaming applications, privacy enhancements, stronger pairing, power optimization and enhanced sensor scenarios.
Low power is one of Bluetooths key attributes, as it uses much less power than Wi-Fi or other wireless protocols. “We will continue to enhance the spec so that it can use even less power; weve learned a lot about protocols and how Bluetooth spends its power,” Foley said. “We can reduce power in some key applications where it will be possible to build sensor-type devices with multiple years of battery life, so, for example, with home alarm systems, you wouldnt have to change batteries for two to three years.”
The SIG will also address security concerns next year. “For example, if someone were to know my Bluetooth address on my phone and Im in public and answer a call on my headset, every packet that gets sent back and forth between headset and phone has that Bluetooth address on it. So if someone were monitoring airwaves, someone can see my address as long as Im on the phone, so it would be easier to detect my address on my phone and infer that Im there,” Foley said.
Foley predicts that a new security specification will be completed next quarter, with prototyping in the fourth quarter of next year and products to follow in late 2006.
In 2006, the SIG will turn to enabling multicast applications, such as multiplayer gaming; increasing the range for sensor scenarios; and optimizing headsets. That specification will be complete in the fourth quarter of next year, with prototypes due in the fourth quarter of 2006.
The SIG will provide new qualification programs for products, where it will make new tools available free on its Web site for SIG members. Foley said these tools will make it easier for manufacturers to create software and make sure devices are interoperable.
Some analysts still question the extent to which users will employ Bluetooth. “[It] has momentum in mobile phones, PDAs and in some PCs, but mostly in high-end devices. Bluetooth has some problems in that its not that easy to use, and it doesnt always work with a lot of different devices,” said IDC analyst Ken Furer in Framingham, Mass.
Still, IDC predicts that about 158 million Bluetooth-enabled devices will ship this year. That number will grow to 922 million units by 2008, IDC says.
For one user, Bluetooth has already arrived. St. Marys Episcopal School, an all-girls school in Memphis, Tenn., is pilot testing its first Bluetooth-enabled device for the classroom, and the pilot has gone so well that its seeking funding for more devices.
“We were looking for an interactive solution for teachers whereby they could put notes or problems onto a whiteboard and yet be able to capture that for a student absent or out of class,” said Melissa Lofton, director of network communication for the school. “From that idea, we started looking at whiteboard solutions, but the other boards came with a lot of software and a lot of tools built in that all teachers dont necessarily use. Then we went to a conference, and we saw a demo of an eBeam, a device that goes onto a regular whiteboard that does all the things interactive whiteboards do.”
“It allows a regular whiteboard to be interactive, and the Bluetooth keeps us from having wires everywhere; its a much cleaner kind of way to interact with students,” said Lofton. “Bluetooth allows for mobility; youre not just stuck behind your desk anymore. And youre not stepping over wires trying to maneuver between the computer and board.”