The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has picked sides in the battle between two competing UWB (Ultra Wideband) short-range, high-speed wireless technologies, choosing the Wi-Media Alliance's MB-OFDM (multiband orthogonal frequency division multiplexing).

The SIG has decided to base a future high-speed version of Bluetooth on MB-OFDM instead of the rival direct-sequence UWB version from the UWB Forum, said Michael Foley, executive director of the SIG, in a news conference on Tuesday. The Wi-Media Alliance is backed by Intel, while the UWB Forum is led by Motorola spin-off Freescale Semiconductor.

"After speaking with our members, we have heard overwhelmingly that Wi-Media was the version of the technology they wanted to see enabled within the Bluetooth spec," Foley said. "There was not one thing in particular, it was a collection of features, or advantages, that made us choose."

New video Bluetooth devices could ship in 2008

The SIG plans to have an initial specification completed in the first quarter of 2007. After that it will enter a testing phase, with final completion of the specification expected in the third or fourth quarter of 2007. Devices with the new technology could start shipping in early 2008, Foley said.

The SIG sees the high-speed version of Bluetooth as a solution for synchronising and transferring large amounts of data and enabling high-quality video and audio applications for portable devices, multimedia projectors and television sets. Mobile devices such as high-end smart phones, that transfer large amounts of data are expected to be the first to incorporate UWB-based Bluetooth. Headsets and mice are expected to use existing Bluetooth specifications until costs and power consumption of UWB-based Bluetooth come down.

The SIG said it will work to ensure that future Bluetooth high-speed devices are backward compatible with existing devices.

Regulation required

Before finalising a specification, Foley acknowledged the SIG and the Wi-Media Alliance must first overcome regulatory and technological hurdles.

The two groups said they have decided to use the unlicensed radio spectrum above 6GHz for UWB-based Bluetooth. "We believe utilising a higher band, in the 6-9GHz spectrum, will give us a much better opportunity of getting global regulatory acceptance," Foley said.

On the technology side, Foley said that while initially costs will be higher and power consumption will be increased with UWB-based Bluetooth, the SIG will work hard to bring those in line with the current Bluetooth specification.

Personal video sharing at ten metres

The cost of UWB-based Bluetooth will initially be about 10 to 15 times higher than the current cost of Bluetooth, said Stephen Wood, president of the Wi-Media Alliance and technology strategist at Intel. Foley expects that price to eventually come down to the current costs of Bluetooth.

"Over time as we see much tighter integration into the solution, prices will come down. I expect the price curve will be similar to what you saw with the original Bluetooth radios," Foley said.

Foley also expects that the optimal range for UWB-based Bluetooth will be similar to the existing Bluetooth technology.

"About ten metres is what we're targeting," Foley said. "We think for many of the applications the sweet spot is around 100Mbps at ten metres."