Duo Gets Bluetooth, Wi-Fi to Work Together

Intersil and Silicon Wave announce the availability of a reference design that allows for simultaneous operation of the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless protocols.

LAS VEGAS--Wireless LAN chip-set provider Intersil Inc. and Bluetooth radio maker Silicon Wave Inc. this week announced the availability of a reference design that allows for simultaneous operation of the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless protocols. But it will be a while before the technology will appear in end-user products.

At the NetWorld+Interop trade show here, the two companies demonstrated their Blue802 technology; a notebook equipped with a Blue802 mini-PCI card ran a video stream to a wireless LAN access point while at the same time sending data to a printer via Bluetooth. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi operate in the same radio band, and Bluetooth has been known to jump all over the band, slowing down and even shutting down Wi-Fi connections.

The Blue802 technology uses a time-slicing technique in which the two protocols are not actually running simultaneously, but they switch back and forth fast enough that the connection seems simultaneous.

Hillsboro, Ore., startup Mobilian Corp. announced its own Bluetooth/Wi-Fi radio over a year ago. Its TrueRadio two-chip chip set puts the basebands of both protocols on one chip and the two radios on the other, promising actual simultaneous operation. But the product isnt available yet.

Officials at Intersil and Silicon Wave said that they chose to start with a mini-PCI reference design because it will be cheaper for end users to buy a notebook integrated with a technology than to buy separate modules; mini-PCI cards are expected to cost notebook vendors about $50. The mini-PCI chip set should be available in large volumes by the third quarter of this year, they said. Officials acknowleged, though, that potential licensees are interested in PC Card and Compact Flash solutions, too, because customers like a la carte options and also they may want to put the technology in handheld computers that dont support mini-PCI.

The two companies are still in the process of choosing a company to develop the mini-PCI cards in volume, and they are still wooing potential OEMs to buy the chip sets once they are ready. Intersil is the best-known chip-set maker in the Wi-Fi space and already lists several notebook vendors among its customers, and Silicon Wave is considered a veteran of Bluetooth.

"All the top-level OEMs are at least interested in a field trial," said Dave Lyon, CEO of Silicon Wave in San Diego.

Still, it may be a tough sell simply because Bluetooth is still a tough sell. While Wi-Fi was designed as a networking technology and Bluetooth more of a simple cable replacement with a better range than infrared, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi now often compete in terms of which protocol is the most appropriate to use in any given device or application.

"Most of our customers choose [Wi-Fi] for printers," said Ray Martino, vice president of network products at Symbol Technologies Inc., which is a customer of Intersils. "If Bluetooth gets a wide enough acceptance, then it might make sense."

Bluetooth has been struggling for acceptance for a good three years but has gained new hope of late because of new attention from Microsoft Corp.

"Bill Gates announced [at a recent conference] that there will be native Bluetooth support in Windows XP," Lyon said. "We sure as hell were waiting for that."