Bluetooth 2 Postponed?

The industry body that develops the Bluetooth short-range wireless connectivity specification appears to have delayed the introduction of next-generation variants to let developers concentrate on creating products based on the current 1.1 version.

Since the Bluetooth Congress of 2000, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has been talking about next-generation variants of Bluetooth that would offer faster data rates than the 720 kbit/s typically offered with today’s devices. In March of last year, the SIG said that it would introduce two next-gen Bluetooth specifications, probably before the end of 2001.

The SIG’s “Radio 2” working group was said to be looking at 2-Mbit/s and 10-Mbit/s variants of the Bluetooth spec. These would enable faster data transfers, allowing video streaming and other multimedia applications between Bluetooth devices.

Just to add to the fun, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) is also working on a successor to Bluetooth, which it calls 802.15.3. It's expected to offer wireless data transfer rates of up to 20 Mbit/s, while maintaining backwards compatibility with the existing Bluetooth specification.

At the moment it is not clear how the increased transfer speeds will affect the range and power consumption of the specification. Typically, in wireless networking, higher data rates mean lower range and heavier power consumption.

Whatever the technical issues, it appears that the introduction and essential testing of these specs by the Bluetooth SIG may have been delayed or even dropped while Bluetooth devices using the first really usable version of the technology get established on the market.

“There is no Bluetooth 2 yet designated,” a Bluetooth SIG spokesperson told Unstrung. “Refinements to the 1.1 specification are being discussed, but all future revs of the specification will be backward compatible with 1.1. It is a very stable specification, and we are encouraging all development to move ahead on this platform.”

This is an understandable position. Bluetooth devices are now widely available in Europe and Asia, and coming down in price all the time. On the high street in the U.K, you can now buy a Compaq Computer Corp. iPaq handheld computer bundled with a Bluetooth card for little more than price of the personal digital assistant itself. Millions of chipsets that implement the 1.1 specification have been shipped. Bluetooth is finally taking off.

However, interoperability issues dogged the initial introduction of Bluetooth technology. The reason that Bluetooth devices didn’t become available in 1999 or 2000, as was originally and repeatedly predicted, was because the manufacturers couldn’t be sure that their own particular Bluetooth card would talk to every Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone or device, and so on and so on down the line. Finally, the 1.1 specification was developed and emerged last year as a stable platform that every company could write to. However, there were plenty of false starts before 1.1: The Bluetooth SIG was initially formed in 1998.

Considering the fact that interoperability issues took so long to iron out with the initial version of Bluetooth, surely the SIG should be constantly testing any new variants of Bluetooth to ensure a smooth rollout when the time comes.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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