The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) is introducing version 3.0 of its short range wireless standard on April 21, boosting data rates by using the 802.11 Wi-Fi physical layer.
The SIG had originally planned to use WiMedia UltraWideBand for the high speed multimedia iteration of its specifications, but this project was put on the back burner as WiMedia lost momentum and as Wi-Fi was rapidly improved in terms of data rates and suitability for home media applications such as high definition video transfer.
The new architecture is called 'Alternate MAC/PHY' and in handsets, users will get conventional Bluetooth for pairing devices plus a fast channel, via 802.11, for content. This can be turned off to preserve battery power, but also boosts the position of the handset as a hub and remote control for the entire home media network.
So the new platform pairs the 3Mbps low power frequency hopping system of Bluetooth 2.1+EDR with 802.11, with the Bluetooth 3.0 stack handling the switch between the two. Since there is no cross-certification program in place with the Wi-Fi Alliance as yet, the SIG cannot use the 'Wi-Fi' badge.
The 802.11 function works without the phone having to sign into a specific Wi-Fi network, so that ad hoc usage can be supported. The class 3.0 radios should also support extended range from 30 feet to as much as 300 feet.
With UltraWideBand increasingly sidelined, this looks like a first step towards a combined set of standards for wireless LANs and personal area networks, with more tightly integrated technologies and common certification and software development.
A year ago Intel unveiled its Cliffside project, which is geared to a new approach to presonal area networks and mobile devices. Initially, it provides a way to sync an MP3 player with video files wirelessly, connect a PC to a TV to view HD movies, or connect laptops in an ad hoc way when an access point is not available.
Another new feature in 3.0 is Enhanced Power Control, which is intended to cut the number of disconnects that can be caused by movement such as placing a handset or other Bluetooth device into a pocket or purse.