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FAQs: Bluetooth low energy wireless technology

Bluetooth low energy wireless technology will extend Bluetooth wireless connectivity to compact electronics devices powered by coin cell batteries. This technology backgrounder addresses frequently asked questions about this exciting new technology

 

Q: What is Bluetooth low energy wireless technology?

A: Bluetooth low energy wireless technology is an ultra-low power RF technology operating in the 2.4GHz band. It is an extension of Bluetooth wireless technology (also known as Classic Bluetooth wireless technology). Bluetooth low energy wireless technology is defined in the Bluetooth Special Interest Group's (SIG) Bluetooth Core Specification Version 4.0. It comprises a physical layer, lightweight protocol stack, and application specific profiles. It is designed to complement Classic Bluetooth and to connect cellphones and PCs to a range of coin cell battery-powered sensors that require battery lifetimes of months or years.

 

Q: Is there a need for another wireless standard?

A: Classic Bluetooth wireless technology has proven to be very successful. It is responsible for much of the widespread adoption of short-range wireless. However, Classic Bluetooth wireless technology has been designed to suit a wide range of applications. This has meant some compromises; in particular, Classic Bluetooth wireless technology has a relatively complicated protocol, requires large capacity batteries and is relatively expensive. There are many applications that could benefit from wireless connectivity, but the expense and power consumption of Classic Bluetooth wireless technology can’t be justified. Nordic has designed proprietary low-power transceivers specifically for these applications; however, in many applications the consumer would benefit from an open industry standard that ensures interoperability between devices from different manufacturers.

 

Q: Why is Nordic embracing Bluetooth low energy wireless technology?

A: Nordic Semiconductor is a world leader in ultra-low power wireless connectivity. The company is expert in this technology, and many of Nordic’s transceivers are already used in the target applications for Bluetooth low energy wireless technology chips. By embracing Bluetooth low energy wireless technology, Nordic will be able to extend its reach to wider markets. Nordic is an Associate Member of the Bluetooth SIG, the body charged with drawing up the Bluetooth low energy specification.

 

Q: How does Bluetooth low energy wireless technology differ from Nordic Semiconductor’s existing technology?

A: Bluetooth low energy wireless technology’s physical layer (PHY) is similar to that of Nordic’s existing products. Bluetooth low energy wireless technology also includes the upper protocol stack layers up to application specific profiles, adding the advantage of interoperability with any Bluetooth low energy wireless technology-enabled product such as mobile phones and PCs.

 

Q: What are the applications for Bluetooth low energy wireless technology?

A: Bluetooth low energy wireless technology can be added to a range of small, battery-powered devices to bring the convenience of wireless to a wide range of applications. Examples include sports and health sensors, payment terminals, keyboards, mice, remote controls, and watches. All of these devices will be able to communicate with each other and suitably equipped mobile phones and PCs.

 

Example 1: Sports and health sensors
Imagine a tiny sports or health sensor embedded in your shoe equipped with a wireless link communicating with your watch. Bluetooth low energy wireless technology’s ultra-low power consumption will bring wireless connectivity to sports and health sensors without compromising battery lifetimes.

 

Example 2: Watches
Imagine your watch equipped with a wireless link communicating with both a tiny sports sensor embedded in your shoe and your mobile phone. Bluetooth low energy wireless technology’s ultra-low power consumption will bring wireless connectivity to watches without compromising battery lifetime.

 

Example 3: PC accessories
Bluetooth low energy wireless technology is designed to offer wireless connectivity to high performance PC accessories such as mice, keyboards, and multimedia remote controls. The ultra-low power consumption of Bluetooth low energy wireless technology extends battery lifetimes to over a year. Nordic Semiconductor will build upon its long established position as a leading provider of ultra-low power 2.4GHz technology to encourage Bluetooth low energy wireless technology’s adoption into PC accessories and next generation wireless mice and keyboards.

 

Example 4: Cellphone accessories
Cellphones equipped with Bluetooth low energy wireless technology will enable a range of new accessories such as call control/input devices, sports and health sensors, security, and payment devices. These devices will benefit from the ultra-low power consumption of Bluetooth low energy wireless technology making viable compact, coin cell battery operated devices with battery lifetimes up to 3 years (depending on application, operating environment, and usage pattern).

 

Q: How does Bluetooth low energy wireless technology differ from other wireless technologies?

A: Compared to other technologies for local wireless connectivity such as Bluetooth wireless technology and ZigBee®, Bluetooth low energy wireless technology consumes a fraction of the power enabling wireless capabilities to be added to smaller and less costly devices than would otherwise be possible. Bluetooth low energy wireless technology complements existing standards by focusing on control and sensor applications where low-power operation is essential.

 

Q: Will Bluetooth low energy wireless technology be compatible with Classic Bluetooth wireless technology?

A: Bluetooth low energy wireless technology is designed to complement Classic Bluetooth wireless technology by extending wireless connectivity to devices without the power to support a Classic Bluetooth wireless technology radio. In its previous forms (Versions 1.2, 2.1+EDR and 3.0+HS), Classic Bluetooth wireless technology won’t be able to communicate directly with Bluetooth low energy wireless technology chips. This is because Bluetooth low energy wireless technology chips will run a different protocol to Classic Bluetooth wireless technology. However, the members of the Bluetooth SIG are developing Bluetooth Version 4.0 ("v4.0") chips which will be based on Classic Bluetooth chips, but include an on-chip element that can communicate with Bluetooth low energy wireless technology. It is anticipated that adding this capability will only marginally increase the cost of Bluetooth chips encouraging their widespread take-up in place of Classic Bluetooth wireless technology. The result, for example, would be a cellphone that connects seamlessly to other Bluetooth devices as well as Bluetooth low energy wireless technology devices.

 

Q: How does Bluetooth low energy wireless technology power consumption compare with Classic Bluetooth wireless technology?

A: It’s important to note that Classic Bluetooth wireless technology and Bluetooth low energy wireless technology are designed for different operational environments, so direct comparisons are difficult. However, based on likely usage patterns a Bluetooth low energy wireless technology chip transmitting at 1 Mbps with a range of a few meters would use around one-tenth the power of a Bluetooth chip transmitting at the same data rate and range.

 

Q: Will Bluetooth low energy wireless technology be expensive?

A: Bluetooth low energy wireless technology is specifically designed to be a low-cost wireless technology to encourage the widest possible take-up in a range of coin cell battery-powered electronic devices.

 

Q: Why was Wibree, the forerunner of Bluetooth low energy wireless technology, launched by Nokia?

A: Nokia is keen to extend wireless connectivity beyond Classic Bluetooth wireless technology and envisages the mobile handset as the ideal device to provide the “gateway” for this extension. With the advent of smartphones, personal electronic devices are converging into one product, and it makes sense to use that product as “the centre of a personal wireless world”. With a suitably equipped mobile handset, users will be able to connect to a cellular network, to other Bluetooth-equipped products such as PCs or PDAs, and to Bluetooth low energy wireless technology-equipped devices such as sports and health sensors. To encourage the development of ultra-low power wireless, Nokia launched Wibree, the forerunner to Bluetooth low energy as an “open industry” initiative and invited Bluetooth chip and proprietary ultra-low power wireless manufacturers such as Nordic Semiconductor to take part in its development. The technology was transferred to the Bluetooth SIG in June 2007.

 

Q: How does Bluetooth low energy wireless technology affect the market for Bluetooth wireless technology and ZigBee?

A: Bluetooth wireless technology is very successful with nearly a billion (1000 million) chips shipped so far and escalating demand predicted for the future. It is unlikely that any wireless technology is going to challenge Bluetooth wireless technology in its defined sector as a PAN technology. And the Bluetooth SIG is constantly improving the technology to improve its efficiency and bandwidth. Bluetooth low energy wireless technology is designed to complement rather than displace Bluetooth wireless technology. ZigBee is a low-power wireless technology aimed at industrial and home automation networks. This is not a target for Bluetooth low energy wireless technology. Bluetooth low energy wireless technology is targeted at consumer and personal electronic products and has certain attributes – such as bandwidth – that are superior to ZigBee for these applications. With the dramatic expansion of wireless connectivity predicted in the next decade, it seems likely that Bluetooth low energy wireless technology and ZigBee will successfully co-exist in their target sectors.

 

Q: Is the Bluetooth low energy wireless technology specification available?

A: According to the Bluetooth SIG, Bluetooth low energy wireless technology is a hallmark part of the Bluetooth Version 4.0 Core Specification. This specification was announced by the Bluetooth SIG in December 2009 and describes the protocol stack from the lower physical layer up to a set of profiles that support specific usage models. It also defines compliance and interoperability tests to ensure that different Bluetooth low energy wireless technology enabled devices can communicate seamlessly. Nordic played a major role in defining the interoperability specification.

 

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