Bluetooth 4.0 Officially Debuts: Low-Energy Spec Shipping In Products By Early 2011

Talk about innovating faster than the speed of a short-range file transfer. Bluetooth 2.0 and 2.1 are still standard inclusions on most shipping notebooks, but Bluetooth 3.0 has already been announced for a variety of smartphones. The biggest feature with BT 3.0 was the ability to borrow nearby Wi-Fi signals to speed up transfers when needed, but obviously that will drain more power in exchange for speed.

Now, Bluetooth 4.0 is already being unveiled, far before Bluetooth 3.0 has even become a mainstay. This week, at an all-hands meeting in Seattle, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) revealed the most data yet about the forthcoming specification, which will target low-energy products that would benefit more from a power-saving protocol than a high-speed protocol. It's expected that BT 4.0 will be brought to market by the end of Q2 2010, and it will feature a powerful low energy mode designed to enable expansion of the technology in m-health, sports and fitness, security and home entertainment scenarios where button-cell battery devices proliferate.

“Bluetooth v4.0 throws open the doors to a host of new markets for Bluetooth manufacturers and products such as watches, remote controls, and a variety of medical and in-home sensors.  Many of these products run on button-cell batteries that must last for years versus hours and will also benefit from the longer range enabled by this new version of the Bluetooth specification,“ said Michael Foley, Ph.D., executive director of the Bluetooth SIG.

BT 4.0 products are expected to ship in late 2010 or early 2011, and we may just see the revitalization of those Bluetooth watches that were briefly popular a few years back. Dick Tracy really could use a fine successor.

Bluetooth v4.0 is like three specifications in one – Classic Bluetooth technology, Bluetooth low energy technology, and Bluetooth high speed technology– all which can be combined or used separately in different devices according to their functionality. For example, sensors like those in pedometers and glucose monitors will run only low energy technology, thus saving power, cost and space within the device. Watches will take advantage of both low energy technology while collecting data from fitness sensors on the body as well as Classic Bluetooth technology when sending that information to a PC, or separately displaying caller ID information when wirelessly connected to a mobile phone. Mobile phones and PCs, which support the widest range of uses, will utilize the full package with Classic, low energy and high speed technology running side by side.

As with previous versions of the specification, the range of the Bluetooth v4.0 radio may be optimized according to application. The majority of Bluetooth devices on the market today include the basic 30 foot, or 10 meter, range of the Classic Bluetooth radio, but there is no limit imposed by the Specification. With Bluetooth v4.0, manufacturers may choose to optimize range to 200 feet and beyond, particularly for in-home sensor applications where longer range is a necessity.