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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bluetooth Low Energy Technology Demonstration: Progress made but Questions Remained

Bluetooth lovers acclaimed again early this Month. Bluetooth SIG group, basically Nokia and CSR, did a prototype products demonstration of Bluetooth Low Energy at a deliberately selected venue, the Healthcare Unbound Conference & Exhibition in San Francisco. Actually this presentation is quite successful. A lot media has already covered this event. Here is my observation, hopefully valuable.

The demonstration involved a Nokia phone, a Marsden weight scale and a temperature sensor. I have never heard of Marsden before. Checking google, I found the company is a few blocks away from CSR in Cambridge. Here is the weight scale used in the demo. This weight scale has a serial port that a Bluetooth module is able to tap into. During the demo, people were asked to step on the scale and someone in the display area guess their weight remotely. The module has a 10dBm PA with a dipole antenna. My Nokia friend was able to take the phone and ran away to show the long range to the audiences on the noisy show floor. The temperature sensor was much less interesting. I tend to believe it was an industrial infrared sensor perhaps for food preparation or serving.

To my own opinion, though successful, this demonstration is not as impressive as what ANT did in Luxembourg. (see my blog Witness of ULP Wireless Demonstration) I recently found ANT has published a piece of video of that demo on youtube. (Here is the link.) However, this is a Bluetooth event and their marketing machine is so up on speed to create the buzz – the first on a real phone.

CSR again made a news release and I won’t criticize any misleading in its description of the demonstration. But I am fed up with the bragging tone. In the first paragraph, it says “The Bluetooth SIG expects final adoption of Bluetooth low energy technology in Q1, 2009”. But at the end, “CSR’s BlueCore7 silicon is the world’s first product to integrate Bluetooth low energy technology which it has integrated as part of its connectivity centre and will be in volume production from Q4 2008.” I do not know how CSR can mass produce their BlueCore7 a quarter before the finalization of Bluetooth LE specification. The company must have magic besides its technology.

Anyway this demonstration showed that Bluetooth Low Energy is one step closer. But as any other technologies, there is a long way to go from such a demonstration to commercialization. This is especially true for the case of Bluetooth LE. So, Bluetooth enthusiasts, hold.

Four elements are missing here or are expected for the next scheduled demo in Boston October. The first are the sensors, wearable sensors like heart rate monitor and foot pod, which are two most popular sports sensors. The second is the watch. Without this pivotal part, Bluetooth LE will only be confined to cell phones and has no way to unite the segmented market. The third is single mode Bluetooth LE part from companies like Nordic semiconductor, Epson and TI, which could be the reason why there is no watch and sports sensors in this show. The last piece is how Bluetooth LE to be compatible with classic Bluetooth and in operation simultaneously.

In my close monitoring of ANT+ Alliance, I found both Nordic Semiconductor and TI have joined the alliance. (here is the member list) At least these two leading companies of ultra low power wireless have different view of Bluetooth LE and are not putting their eggs in one basket.

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