Electronic Design

A Wave Of Bluetooth Hardware, Software Coming To Market

The wait for real Bluetooth products is nearly over. At December's Bluetooth Developer's Conference in San Jose, Calif., dozens of papers and over 100 vendors exhibited or announced a wide range of hardware, software, and application products. Most are available now or shipping soon.

Many dual-chip sets (a radio chip and baseband circuits) premiered among the hardware. Some vendors also offered single-chip products. Nearly every major semiconductor maker and many specialty manufacturers have chips or complete modules for this market. Full-CMOS or biCMOS chips dominated these chip selections.

Other companies offered separate SiGe amps for Class 1 Bluetooth radios with more output power. Centurion, Galtronics, gigaAnt AB, RangeStar, and Murata presented internal embedded and external antennas.

The show's major software offering was a Bluetooth protocol stack. The baseband protocol is very complex, and design engineers wouldn't want to tackle it. But by combining available stack software with an embedded controller, engineers can quickly design the baseband element.

Bluetooth applications debuted, too. Red-M's 3000AS access server, acting as an Internet gateway, can serve up to seven Bluetooth access devices (see the figure). A smaller1000AP acts as a wireless expansion port for adding more users and extending the range beyond 100 m.

Several standards are competing with Bluetooth, such as the irDA protocol (an infrared standard), IEEE 802.11b, and HomeRF. It isn't easy to predict a prevailing technology yet, as performance and cost benefits widely vary.

But cost is key. Many prospective users believe Bluetooth will be widely adopted if its cost dips under $5. Most Bluetooth chip sets cost barely less than $10, though, even in high volumes. Generally, users feel Bluetooth won't achieve widespread use without this cost breakthrough. The usual "chicken-and-egg" situation prevails.

For details, go to www.bluetooth.com.

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