Bluetooth - can it compete with Wibree on cost? Come to that, can Wibree compete with Bluetooth?

by Manek Dubash | posted on 14 June 2007

For a technology that, just a decade ago, was going to revolutionise our lives, Bluetooth has hardly lived up to the hype. But it's done a lot better than most.

Manek Dubash

Buried deep inside almost every mobile phone sold over the last five or more years is a short-range wireless chip that acts as a cable replacement. You don't have to have a cable with the right connections, you just link up with the device and you're away.

Well, that was the sensible end of the Bluetooth argument. Others punted Bluetooth as a much more revolutionary technology. We would all have Bluetooth chips in our houses, they would command light switches, garage and front door openers, curtain pullers -- the complete home automation bit, in other words.

Few stopped to ask the question: why?

Or at least, few in the industry's overheated marketing departments at the time. Punters on the other hand were happy if it just worked as a cable replacement. Which it does, most of the time -- even though I don't know of anyone who's not had to wrestle with it occasionally.

Even so, a longevity of over ten years is not bad going for a technology that's not had to change a great deal -- once it's in the mobile phone, you can't mess with it. And it's made a shedload of money for those involved in developing and selling millions of those tiny $1 chips.

But something changed this week. Bluetooth absorbed Wibree -- a clear competitor to another silly-named wireless technology Zigbee. Both are aimed at the cheap, cheap device market. Light switches, door openers, curtain pullers -- the home automation market in other words. If you don't have to run cables to them, they're much cheaper to install. But these devices will have to work for years unattended running on just a button-sized watch battery, and the radio has to cost the same as a button.

This means Bluetooth is way over the top when it comes to power consumption and software sophistication.

And that's where Wibree comes in. Unlike Zigbee, it doesn't re-invent the wheel. Instead, it uses the same radio frequency as Bluetooth and much of the same, now proven, software stack. Which makes it relatively cheap to implement.

Could the loud visionaries have been right about the power of short-range wireless? Were they just 15 years too early or do people actually not want to live in automated homes?

It's a question I'd welcome hearing your opinions about.

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