As Ultra-Wideband (UWB) radios near mass production, manufacturers and experts alike forecast a collision between the two major protocols that will ride upon this new high-speed technology: High Speed Bluetooth and
Certified Wireless USB. As both use the same WiMedia UWB radio, their emergence has led many experts to assume that one technology will dominate across all types of devices and uses,
much as earlier technologies—such as Wi-Fi and even Bluetooth—had once been hyped as the single solution for all wireless needs.
Bluetooth technology defied the original "one-size-fits-all" hype and the pessimism that followed by gaining traction in the market for which it was originally designed—namely, mobile phones and the devices that connect to mobile phones.
Wi-Fi, too, established its dominance in the market for which it was optimized—wireless local-area networking between PCs and access points. While the marketplace did not satisfy observers' lust for a decisive victory between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, it did sort out which technology is superior for each application.
A FAMILIAR BATTLE
Similarly, High Speed Bluetooth and Certified Wireless USB work best in different applications. The marketplace will once again decide where each technology will land based on their core strengths.
Led by strong penetration into mobile phones, Bluetooth has an installed base of more than a billion devices. Over 600 million Bluetooth-enabled devices were shipped in 2006 alone. Growth is widely predicted to continue for years to come. By the end of the decade, manufacturers will likely be shipping more than 2 billion Bluetooth-enabled devices every year.
These numbers show that Bluetooth technology has a strong foothold in the mobile environment, remaining the established model for quick and easy setup of ad-hoc personal-area networks between PCs, mobile phones, headsets, cars, cameras, printers, and other portable devices.
The industry is taking steps to ensure tomorrow's Bluetooth-enabled devices can connect to the billion Bluetooth devices already shipped. High Speed Bluetooth technology will retain the robust, power-efficient radio of existing Bluetooth devices.
This dual-radio approach means that devices always have a low-power channel available for pairing and maintaining connections when high data throughput is not required. It also provides backward compatibility with the installed base of over a billion devices.
Consumer recognition will again tilt the scales toward Bluetooth. While wired USB represented one of the first "plug and play" interfaces, the transition from wired to wireless will result in the same tradeoffs between security and ease-of-use that Bluetooth technology engineers dealt with years ago.
By the time devices come to market, the Certified Wireless USB user experience will look very similar to Bluetooth. However, consumers are familiar with pairing Bluetooth-enabled devices and will have to acquaint themselves with the very different interactions imposed by operating in the wireless environment for wireless USB—not the "plug and play" experience consumers have come to expect with wired USB.
There is no guarantee that Certified Wireless USB will satisfy users who expect wired USB-like simplicity in setting up their Certified Wireless USB products, and customers are quite unforgiving of difficult technology. To complicate matters further, the Universal Serial Bus Implementers Forum (USB-IF) will face an uphill struggle to establish a brand that represents compatibility and ease of use in the consumer's mind.
Unfortunately, the USB-IF has lost trademark control over "Wireless USB" and has been forced to adopt "Certified Wireless USB" as an enforceable brand name. The Cable-Free USB and WirelessUSB brands, along with the large number of Wi-Fi and proprietary products currently marketed as "Wireless USB," have set a compatibility trap that will spring as soon as Certified Wireless USB devices start to hit the market.
None of these different but similar-sounding brands are interoperable with one another. Yet so far, buyers have shown little ability to discern among the different technologies.
THE MARKET DECIDES
Additional differentiators exist, including power requirements and global regulatory issues. As with today's wireless technologies, manufacturers will pick the right UWB-based wireless technology for the job, and the marketplace will put an end to the "one-size-fits-all" hype.
Bluetooth wireless technology, the solution with global regulatory approval, proven ease of use, and profile support, is the obvious choice for the mobile devices—and the devices they connect to—of today, tomorrow, and the future.