Sunday 28 September 2008

Evolution Of Bluetooth

Last week I had an opportunity to attend a Short Range Wireless SIG (special interest group) conference organised by Cambridge Wireless. The conference was about Bluetooth technology, where it’s heading and future of Bluetooth. Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) was formed around 10 years ago. Bluetooth SIG is privately held non profit organisation whose main tasks are to publish Bluetooth specifications, administer the qualification program, protect the Bluetooth trademarks and evangelize Bluetooth wireless technology.

The Bluetooth SIG global headquarters are in Bellevue, Washington, USA and has local offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, China, Seoul, Korea, Minato-Ku, Tokyo, Taiwan and Malmo, Sweden
During the presentation in the conference there were discussions on technical and general stuff about short range wireless and hence I learned some amazing things especially about Bluetooth technology and its application in our daily life. Although my expertise and main focus lies in the area of 3GPP technology i.e. HSPA+, LTE etc I occasionally do pay an interest in Bluetooth and other W-Fi technologies. After attending the SIG conference I do know now that there are some amazing things that can be done with Bluetooth other than just using it as a Hands free kit while talking on you mobile. There are already around 2 billion Bluetooth enabled devices in various forms in the market place.

In terms of business there is also an enormous scope to develop customized applications that can work with Bluetooth and UWB (ultra-wide band, ultraband, etc.).

UWB is advanced form of Bluetooth where the MAC/PHY layer is changed to accommodate high data rates.

UWB is a radio technology that can be used at very low energy levels for short-range high-bandwidth communications by using a large portion of the radio spectrum thus enabling higher data rates. UWB communications transmit in a way that doesn't interfere largely with other more traditional 'narrow band' and continuous carrier wave uses in the same frequency band. IEEE 802.15.4a in its draft standard and working group has proposed UWB as an alternative PHY layer.

Low energy Bluetooth is another emerging flavour which will be talked very often in the coming days. Bluetooth low energy is the next generation of wireless standard from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) addressing a completely new set of applications but building on the installed base of Bluetooth devices. As the name implies devices based on Bluetooth low energy consumes only a fraction of the power of the classic Bluetooth radio thus allowing small and low cost implementations.

Bluetooth low energy technology is designed with two equally important implementation options:

  • Single-mode (stand-alone) implementation: Targeted at applications requiring low power consumption and small size; typically button cell battery -powered devices, for e.g. sports & fitness equipment and sensor devices
  • Dual-mode implementation - an extension to a classic Bluetooth radio: Targeted at mobile phones and PCs.

Bluetooth low energy is very robust through frequency hopping compared to other similar technologies. It is very secure through optional 128 bit AES encryption.
The significant factor of Bluetooth low energy is its low power consumption which is by very low standby activity, fast connection setup and low overhead in data packets.

Bluetooth low energy technology explores new market opportunities. It is sometimes unbelievable to see where and how Bluetooth low energy technology can be used. One of the most amazing uses of this technology which I came across was when I came to know that a double amputee can walk again using Bluetooth. Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Bleill (USA Army) lost both his legs above the knees when a bomb exploded under his Humvee while on patrol in Iraq on October 15, 2006. He has 32 pins in his hip and a 6-inch screw holding his pelvis together.

Now, he's starting to walk again with the help of prosthetic legs outfitted with Bluetooth technology more commonly associated with hands-free cell phones.
Bluetooth is definitely evolving and low energy Bluetooth is very much part of its evolution. The technology has a major parto play in our daily lives and the currently the Sports and Health Care is the significant area where the major focus is lying.

Bluetooth Low energy has a major role to play in sports and fitness. I personally has experienced the use of the Bluetooth device when I visit to Gym. I have to put the device around my chest and the machine then displays my heart rate transmitted by the Bluetooth device. This is amazing as I can constantly monitor my heart rate and based on that I can vary the intensity of my workout.

Thus sports person has sensors i.e Bluetooth device located on the body, shoes, garments and other fitness gear measuring the exercise session such as duration, speed, distance, cadence, slope, location, heart rate, energy consumption etc. Together with this information, when using GPS location related information can be combined with the data. Thus using a Bluetooth device is like training with a virtual partner. The use of the application can motivate and give feedback to the user and remote users, e.g. coach, team mate or a virtual partner. They can access the data remotely and then make decisions based on it for example the exercise can be simulated on exercise bike or treadmill along with multimedia content.

Low energy Bluetooth device thus helps play a significant role in sports persons real time activity and training monitoring.

I have seen Golfers using Bluetooth devices to record their swing. Golfers can thus monitor the real time data and thus can improve their swing. Golf player’s motions are recorded with sensor devices and the data is uploaded to a host device. The recorded data or values are transmitted to web service where the athletes can be remotely monitored online or offline by coach, audience, etc.

Health care is another major area where low energy Bluetooth devices have a significant role to play. There is a potentially market of greater than US$1 Billion for wireless health monitoring products. Examples of currently available medical devices using “Classic” Bluetooth technology are:

  • ECG Monitors
  • Cardiac Defibrillators
  • Blood Glucose Meters
  • Insulin Pumps
  • Pulse Oximeters
  • Blood pressure Monitors
  • Weight Scales

Examples of healthcare devices suited to Bluetooth low energy technology, requiring very low power and long battery life are:

  • Thermometer
  • Blood pressure monitor
  • Weight Scale
  • Heart Rate Monitor
  • PERS
  • Blood Glucose Meter

Let’s consider the example of how the technology can help in the case of Diabetes management. The patient will be fitted with a small low energy Bluetooth device i.e. Blood Glucose meters typically powered by small coin batteries, operating for a year or more. Blood glucose measurement, data is automatically sent to the mobile phone and to the central Personal Health Record. Patient and care providers automatically alerted if the sugar level is outside preset limits and reminders and advice can be sent back to the patient and test compliance can be monitored.

Low energy Bluetooth devices can used in the consumer electrnics control as shownin the picture below.

I must say I was really impressed to finds out how the Bluetooth technology can be used in our daily life. Just by using a simple and small device many patients life can be saved as they are monitored constantly.

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