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AMPed up Bluetooth to piggyback on WiFi, UWB

Sep 9, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 3 views

The Bluetooth wireless spec will continue to prosper by piggybacking on higher-bandwidth technologies such as WiFi, says ABI Research. The firm forecasts Bluetooth radio shipments of 2.4 billion units annually by 2013, in part due to new “AMP” firmware that borrows radio time from WiFi and eventually, ultra-wideband (UWB).

Announced in February by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), the Alternate MAC/PHY (AMP) firmware upgrade for the short-range wireless spec will enable existing Bluetooth radios to achieve faster throughput, when needed, by momentarily using an existing secondary radio in the device, according to the SIG. The first version will target 802.11 WiFi radios, while a future version will piggyback on higher-bandwidth, shorter range UWB connections.

In reference to AMP Bluetooth, ABI Research senior analyst Douglas McEuen stated, “It will be a software upgrade for devices equipped with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chips, allowing Bluetooth to utilize Wi-Fi when larger files must be transmitted. Once that transfer is complete, it will fall back to standard Bluetooth.”

The technology should “significantly” increase Bluetooth's usefulness, making it a kind of multi-purpose “Swiss Army Knife” among protocols, says ABI.

According to the Bluetooth SIG, the AMP technology, which is said to be available to existing Bluetooth devices as a firmware upgrade, will support tasks including:

  • Wirelessly bulk synchronize music libraries between PC and MP3 player
  • Bulk download photos to a printer or PC
  • Send video files from camera or phone to computer or television

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In the February announcement, Michael Foley, executive director, the Bluetooth SIG, stated, “What we're doing is taking classic Bluetooth connections — using Bluetooth protocols, profiles, security and other architectural elements — and allowing it to jump on top of the already present 802.11 radio, when necessary, to send bulky entertainment data, faster. When the speed of 802.11 is overkill, the connection returns to normal operation on a Bluetooth radio for optimal power management and performance.”

Foley added, “This is the wireless technology equivalent of 'low hanging fruit.'”

Swimming with the sharks?

Another analogy for the symbiotic relationship AMP creates between Bluetooth and WiFi might be the pilot fish that swim with larger fish in order to feast on their leftovers. It appears to make more sense than bulking up to try to compete with WiFi or UWB. “The SIG is trying to position Bluetooth as a kind of catch-all platform that can do everything,” states ABI's McEuen. “Classic Bluetooth will take care of your voice applications. AMP Bluetooth will allow you that extra kick when you need it. And further down the road, high-speed Bluetooth with UWB will offer huge data rates.”

The WiFi/AMP-enhanced specification will be published to members in mid-2009, says the Bluetooth SIG, but the first products may actually start sampling earlier that year, according to ABI. The UWB technology will start sampling by the end of 2009 or early 2010, says the research group. The Bluetooth SIG is working with the WiMedia Alliance, which is promoting the spread of UWB, to create the UWB piggybacking technology codenamed “Seattle.” The UWB version of AMP “could open the possibility of the Bluetooth platform as a video connectivity solution,” says ABI.

Since UWB devices have yet to ship in large volumes, there does not appear to be an immediate demand for the technology. However, WiFi is increasingly joining Bluetooth side by side in Linux-based mobile consumer electronics devices including cell phones, PMPs, mobile Internet devices (MIDs), and netbooks.

Bluetooth is everywhere…

Prior to the arrival of Bluetooth 2.0 several years ago, the venerable short-term wireless spec looked as if it might fade away in the face of both high-bandwidth longer-range technologies like WiFi, and a multitude of new short-range wireless technologies including ZigBee. Yet, reliability problems were largely solved with Bluetooth 2.0, and the radios can now operate over a distance of 10 to 100 meters depending on the Bluetooth device class, with a peak data rate of 3Mbps. The typical Bluetooth radios found in most consumer electronics devices offer far less bandwidth, but combined with the boom in headsets, the performance boost has helped spread the technology to near ubiquitous status in the mobile device world.

According to the Bluetooth study, more than half of the 2.4 billion shipments in 2013 will be cellular handsets, and another quarter will be represented by mobile headsets. Notebooks and portable media players (PMPs) will run “a distant second and third,” says the research group, although PMPs will represent the highest compound annual growth rate for Bluetooth. The market leaders in Bluetooth ICs — CSR, Broadcom, and Texas Instruments– will maintain their dominant positions, says ABI.

…except Android

Bluetooth may seem to be everywhere, but it won't be fully supported in the first version of the Google Android mobile Linux phone platform. According to an August 25th Android developers blog entry by Dan Morrill, exposed APIs for Bluetooth and GTalk (the Google Talk service originally called “XMPPService”) have both been removed from Android's 0.9 beta software development kit (SDK), and will not appear in Android 1.0 when it's released this Fall. Android 1.0-compliant phones will be able to support Bluetooth headphone use, says Morrill, but additional functionality will await a later release. Morrill says the Android team is still gung-ho on Bluetooth, but explains that “we plain ran out of time.”


The ABI Research study, "Bluetooth: The Global Outlook,” should be available here.

The Bluetooth SIG website does not appear to have much background material on the AMP technology as of yet, but offers an interesting page summarizing and comparing major wireless technologies, from UWB, WiMAX, and the various WiFi flavors working in the higher bandwidths to lower-bandwidth short-range transfer technologies such as NFC and ZigBee. The comparison page may be found here.

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