Wireless battle of the B's: Bluetooth teams with Wibree. What about Zigbee?

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Today the group that develops Bluetooth technology said it would join with rival short-range wireless technology from Nokia known as Wibree to develop all manner of small devices for business and consumers. With this announcement, the Wibree specification will become part of the Bluetooth specification as an ultra low power Bluetooth technology. Because Wibree addresses devices with very low battery capacity and can be easily integrated with Bluetooth technology, it will round out Bluetooth technology's wireless Personal Area Networking (PAN) offering and strengthen the technology's ability to provide wireless connectivity for smaller devices, the companies said in a statement.

At first blush however, devices with Wibree chips cannot communicate with existing Bluetooth-equipped devices, the companies said. Future Bluetooth devices could be upgraded to include the ability to talk to Wibree devices, since the technologies use the same frequencies, and no new antenna or radio components would be needed, the companies added.

Wibree technology, announced last fall, is more power-efficient than Bluetooth which means it could be used in smaller and less costly devices. It can also use the same radio and antenna components as Bluetooth.

Until now Wibree has competed with Bluetooth in the workplace as a way to link keyboards and other peripherals to computers. Bluetooth technology is used to link cell phones with wireless headsets in cars for example.

According to an IDG News Service story, because of its low power requirements, Wibree could be used in tiny sensors that could be worn by a jogger, for example, to collect information about his heart rate or distance traveled.

By combining Bluetooth and Wibree, manufacturers could develop a myriad wearable gadgets, like watches, heart rate monitors and pedometers that communicate with Bluetooth-equipped cell phones or computers. A watch could display the user's incoming text messages, for instance, or an action figure toy could sense the presence of other toys, said an Associated Press story. Wibree sensors could also be placed in a golf club and used to upload data to the Internet about a player's swing, again via a mobile phone, where a golf instructor could offer advice about improving his or her game.

The Bluetooth SIG recognized the potential of Wibree to enhance current Bluetooth use cases around the mobile phone and PC by bringing very low power, sensor type devices into the fold.

The ultra low power extension will allow watches and toys, as well as ports & wellness, healthcare and entertainment devices to be added to one's personal area network, the companies said in a statement. The coming together of Bluetooth and Wibree has to concern the proponents of the other low-power wireless technology in development: ZigBee.

Zigbee is a new technology being developed and deployed for wireless sensor networks. For example, ZigBee protocols typically define a type of sensor network for residential and commercial applications such as heating, air conditioning and lighting control.

Specifically it combines IEEE 802.15.4, which defines the physical and MAC protocol layers, with network, security and application software layers as specified by the ZigBee Alliance, a consortium of technology companies, according to this report.

Bluetooth users with handhelds or laptops can exchange files, business cards and calendar appointments. Bluetooth is more oriented toward user mobility and eliminating short-distance cabling, experts said. ZigBee aims more for grand-scale automation and remote control. Bluetooth developers have tied up with other technologies in the past.

For example, last year they partnered with ultra-wideband developers to enable high-speed data transfer. A possible early application would be the transfer of high-definition video between camcorders and TV sets.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.