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Nokia is introducing a new short-range wireless data service designed to move beyond Bluetooth and enable wireless communications with devices that are smaller and use less power than today’s Bluetooth devices.

The new technology, announced Oct. 3, is called Wibree, which the company says will support communications at a fraction of the power consumption of Bluetooth.

The new technology is an open industry initiative, which means that Nokia will allow other companies to license it.

Currently, Wibree is being developed by Nokia and other members of an informal group, including Broadcom, CSR, Epson and Nordic Semiconductor, which have licensed the technology, and Suunto, which is helping in the development.

Wibree is designed to have a range of up to 10 meters and support a data rate up to 1 megabit per second, which is similar to Bluetooth. It will operate in the 2.4 GHz range.

“It’s open interface technology to expand Bluetooth-like connectivity to a multitude of smaller devices such as watches, wireless keyboards, and sensors, for example,” said Jani Tierala, business development manager for the Nokia Research Center in Helsinki.

Tierala said that initially Nokia sees four main areas where Wibree will be focused. They are in sports, health care, entertainment and the office.

“What is common for all of these use cases is that the amount of data is very limited and at infrequent intervals,” Tierala said.

“This is the great difference with Bluetooth, which is optimized for voice transfer where you have a high amount of data being transferred,” he said.

“When you are transferring a small amount of data, the power consumption of Wibree is a small fraction of Bluetooth,” he said.

The difference has to do with how Wibree and Bluetooth transfer data.

“The first reason is that the packet size in Bluetooth is fixed, while in Wibree we have a dynamic packet size so you can minimize the amount of overhead,” Tierala said. “The other is a different frequency ability scheme.”

Tierala said that Nokia isn’t discussing the frequency agility method at this time.

He did say, however, that the agility method is partially intended to help deal with the interference normally found at 2.4 GHz.

“It’s a hostile environment,” Tierala said.

Tierala said that Wibree is not intended to supplant Bluetooth, but rather to complement it.

Click here to read more about Nokia’s wireless GPS module.

“It’s not possible to set up a radio that would cover all of the use cases,” he said. “We will just have to apply use case specific radios. Wibree is one additional radio.”

He said that adding Wibree to an existing Bluetooth device would cost only a few cents, while a stand-alone Wibree radio should cost less than 1 Euro. He said that it won’t affect the size of an existing Bluetooth device.

Tierala said that while Nokia has been working on Wibree since 2001, there currently is no standard, so while some prototypes have been built, there is no hardware available.

“We are continuing with the efforts to finalize the specification, we are also looking to find a forum or association to govern this technology,” he said.

“We are hoping to conclude an arrangement with an existing body to take over the specification,” Tierala said, adding that he expected that the arrangement should be in place by the time the specification is complete, probably by the end of the second quarter of 2007.

While Nokia isn’t making any announcements as to product availability for Wibree, the company said one vendor, Nordic Semiconductor, is announcing chip availability for the second half of 2007.

According to Tierala, “Wibree” is a combination word. The “Wi” comes from “wireless,” and “bree” comes from an Old English word for “crossroads,” he said.

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