Better Bluetooth in 2.1

By Eric Griffith

March 28, 2007

The new specification for the short-range wireless tech should be appearing in devices soon.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced at CTIA Wireless 2007 in Orlando, Florida yesterday that the Core Specification for Bluetooth version 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) will soon be made available to vendors, with a couple of enhanced features. And it's just in time, as a new study says that Bluetooth awareness in the end-user market is at an all time high of 81%.

The survey was conducted by research firm Millward Brown for the Bluetooth SIG for the fourth year in a row. It consisted of polling 2,700 people in six countries (US, UK, mainland China, Japan, Germany and Taiwan). In 2005, only 73% of those polled had heard of Bluetooth. The biggest rise was in the US, where only 58% knew of Bluetooth two years ago. Now it's 74%. China was polled for this first time and gave a 93% awareness of the technology. Surprisingly, tech-happy Japan's Bluetooth awareness is only 50% -- for two years running.

The Bluetooth SIG says 13 million devices per week currently ship worldwide with Bluetooth integrated, and the installed base is already 1 billion devices. Bluetooth is used for everything from file sharing to wireless headsets on cellular phones.

Bluetooth 2.1 will feature improved pairing to reduce the steps needed to get devices communicating. Michael Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG, is quoted in the announcement as saying, "Our member companies... developed a system where the initial one-time pairing of devices can be done in a matter of seconds with fewer steps." Today, pairing devices can mean finding and navigating a series of menus on at least one of the devices and entering security PIN numbers. The improved pairing will involve as little as powering up both devices and selecting "Add headset" (for example) from a menu just once.

A six-digit passkey can be generated for entry to prevent potential "Man-in-the-Middle" attacks, where you accidentally pair with the wrong device. The passkey isn't like a PIN -- it's generated by the initiating device (laptop or phone in most cases) and is unique to the connection being created. There's a chance that Near Field Communication (NFC) technology will be used as well. With NFC, the pairing -- described as "touch-to-connect" -- could be accomplished just by holding the products in close proximity.

Also new in 2.1 is lower power consumption, which the SIG claims can save as much as five times the juice, particularly in non-voice products like mice, keyboards and home sensors that don't send a continual stream of data.

2.1 + EDR will remain backward-compatible with existing Bluetooth products; there's no word as to whether existing products running the 2.0 specification will be upgradeable.

This 2.1 release is another step toward a much higher data rate version: the Bluetooth SIG long ago said it would work with the WiMedia Alliance to use ultrawideband technology in the next Bluetooth spec. The range won't necessarily change (commonly 30 feet, but as much as 300 with industrial radios), but the speed could jump up to what UWB is delivering for Wireless USB, a maximum of around 480 Megabits per second (Mbps). The current Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR specification tops out at only 3 Mbps.

Among the Bluetooth 2.1 products being shown at CTIA are a stereo headset from Plantronics , and Nokia cellular phones. Nokia is part of the Bluetooth SIG Promoter group along with Agere, Ericsson, Intel, Lenovo, Microsoft, Motorola, Toshiba and others.



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