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Bluetooth Group to Ship AV Products in Q4

Bluetooth, the short-distance wireless datacom technology, is advancing quickly. At the Bluetooth Developers Conference held in Los Angeles from December 7 to 9, 1999, equipment manufacturers from Japan, the US and Europe offered proposals for new applications, including the transmission of still and moving pictures and audio.

Twelve new working groups were created to establish standards and make such applications possible. The basic specifications for Bluetooth Version 1.0, including the physical layers, were designed for consumer electronics such as audio visual (AV) equipment, automotive equipment and printers. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), which promotes the new technology, refered to these specifications as "profiles."

Most of the profiles announced thus far have been designed merely to replace existing cables, providing a wireless connection between a mobile phone and a notebook personal computer (PC), for example. The 12 new profiles are expected to open up a wide range of new applications, including Moving Picture Coding Experts Group Phase-1 (MPEG-1) Audio Layer III (MP3) players, speakers, digital still cameras and car navigation systems. As each working group has its own schedule, it is generally expected that the individual standards will be added to Version 1.0 of the standard one at a time, as each is completed. There are also those who say they will all be adopted as official profiles simultaneously to create the formal Version 2.0 of the standard.

In addition to the appearance of the 12 new working groups, Microsoft Corp announced its participation as a promoter of the technology, and the Bluetooth logo qualification program was launched. Clearly, equipment development has entered a new stage (Fig 1).

At the exhibition site, a variety of prototypes and modules attracted attention (Fig 2). Intel Corp displayed a development board for a notebook PC for the first time. Until the conference, Intel had not announced whether it would put Bluetooth transceiver modules and development tools into production. Concrete shipment dates were not revealed, but Frank Spindler, marketing vice president, Mobile/Handheld Products Group, Intel, commented, "They will appear in notebooks in the second quarter of 2000."

Microsoft's PAN Aims

In addition to the original five firms who founded the Bluetooth SIG and who serve as promoters, providing direction and developing profiles, four new firms have signed up: 3Com Corp, Lucent Technologies Inc, Microsoft and Motorola Inc, all of the US.

Microsoft's announcement of support for Bluetooth is significant because it indicates that the firm will use Bluetooth to implement the personal area network (PAN) it has been pushing for some time. "We plan to use Bluetooth to create an instant ad-hoc network in the form of a personal area network, such as by linking the notebooks of people attending a meeting," explained Mike Wehrs, Bluetooth program manager and group manager, Windows CE Product Planning, Microsoft.

Another key goal for Microsoft is to expand the range of its Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) specification to include Bluetooth equipment as well as Ethernet-based systems. The firm has already started work on a profile to implement UPnP in Bluetooth.

3Com will mount a Bluetooth interface in its Palm series of portable information equipment. A spokesperson for the company explained that it became a supporter to "become more involved in the actual standards creation process. We have been an adapter in the Bluetooth SIG for the last 18 months."

Lucent hopes to apply its strengths in process technology to capture a big share of the Bluetooth component and module markets. As Paul Kan, Bluetooth program and strategic marketing manager, Wireless Products, Lucent Technologies, pointed out, "Many manufacturers have joined the Bluetooth SIG, and plan to produce transceiver modules for the interface. We plan to sell them our process technology."

AV Profiles Major Target

Of the 12 new proposed profiles (Table 1), the audio/visual profile is perhaps the most solid in terms of a development schedule and basic specifications (Fig 3). It is being advanced by five firms: Royal Philips Electronics N. V., Sony Corp, Toshiba Corp, Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Nokia Corp.

There are two major target applications, namely wireless digital HiFi audio, and wireless digital motion video (small picture). An audio transfer process aims to provide a wireless connection between MP3 players (and other systems) and with peripherals such as speakers and headphones. Video transfer will provide wireless connection between television receivers, PCs and video cameras, for example. "The peak data transfer rate for Bluetooth is 721 kbits/s, which is ample for applications using data compressed under MP3 or MPEG4 video," said Ir Johan van Ginderdeuren, Home Networking Business development manager, Philips.

The schedule for standardization has called for a revamped and formal specification in the second quarter of 2000. In the third quarter multi-vendor interconnection tests will begin, and compliant products are expected to hit the shelves in the fourth quarter.

The exhibition featured a demonstration of the transfer of MP3 data via Bluetooth, using a notebook PC with MP3 data and prototype Bluetooth-compliant speakers provided by Philips. The implementation used a transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP) stack on the Bluetooth datalink layer (logical link control and adaptation protocol, or L2CAP), with an MP3 encoding/decoding stack on top of that. Isochronous data handling was not supported in the demonstration.

Camera Makers Eager

Japanese equipment manufacturers are interested in audio/visual applications of Bluetooth, and equally, in the still image profile. Ten firms announced participation in the working group during the conference, including Casio Computer Co Ltd, Sharp Corp and Sony (Fig 4). Most are digital still camera developers.

About ten utilization schemes were proposed at the Still Image working group session, including ones that link two digital still cameras; that link a digital camera to a mobile phone, watch, PC or scanner; and that link a digital still camera to a television.

The group is still considering candidates for the software stack to be implemented on top of L2CAP for image file handling. There are at least three being considered now, the first of which would use existing software stacks object exchange protocol (OBEX) and service discovery protocol (SDP). The second option is IrTran-P, an image file transfer protocol developed by the Infrared Data Association (IrDA), and the third is the JetSend file transfer protocol championed by Hewlett-Packard Co. At present, IrTran-P and JetSend seem to hold an advantage.

OBEX has no capacity to query the functions of the other unit. This is why equipment manufacturers have to build more into it themselves, such as using it with SDP. "When swapping still picture data between a mobile phone and a digital still camera, the sender must query the receiver about display performance (VGA, QCGA, or whatever)," explained an engineer at one manufacturer that supports IrTran-P. "The recognition procedure is different between IrTran-P and JetSend, and we feel IrTran-P is superior because it is able to match any receiver."

The schedule called for the standard to be completed in January or February 2000. Once completed, it will be submitted to the program manager further up the SIG organizational ladder, and will probably be adopted as an official profile in May 2000.

UPnP Control of Bluetooth

Extended SDP was originally initiated by Microsoft as a means of expanding UPnP to Bluetooth-compliant equipment.
The current Bluetooth SDP cannot be directly controlled by UPnP, and thus the firm added a software stack for UPnP control as an upper-level layer in SDP (Fig 5). This makes it possible, for example, for a printer connected via Ethernet to link to a Bluetooth-compliant mobile phone.

Discussion concentrated on four key points: (1) the detection of equipment non-compliant with Bluetooth (discovery); (2) the service description method (UPnP uses the extended markup language, or XML); (3) the control of non-compliant equipment and; (4) the provision of a user interface for non-compliant equipment. The development schedule is still rather vague.

Japan Shows Strong Interest

Over 100 Japanese manufacturers attended the conference and most were particularly interested in the Bluetooth logo qualification process. Before a manufacturer can release a Bluetooth-compliant product onto the market, two major qualifications are needed. The first is issued by the appropriate body of each national government that licenses the terminal. The second is the Bluetooth logo qualification, defined by the Bluetooth SIG. Only with both qualifications can a Bluetooth-compliant system be shipped.

The roles of the Bluetooth Qualification Body (BQB) and Bluetooth Qualification Test Facility (BQTF) were explained at length at the conference (Fig 6). For an equipment manufacturer to submit an application, it first needs to download the application documents from the SIG Internet site, and describe the specifications of the equipment. After audits and tests by the BQB and BQTF, certified equipment is added to the list of compliant equipment.

Three key points concerning the logo qualification program were mentioned at the conference: (1) application documents can be directly downloaded from the Bluetooth SIG public site; (2) the list of corporations functioning as the BQB, which actually handle the documentation audit, was made public and; (3) the full-scale qualification program will start in the third quarter of 2000.

Unfortunately, the Qualification Program Reference Document (PRD) Version 1.0 -- the Qualification Program overview, which so many people had hoped to obtain was unavailable. It is currently in Version 0.66, with Version 1.0 scheduled to be released publicly in the first quarter of 2000 (an estimate only).

The PRD defines formats for describing test items and filling out the application documentation, but Version 0.66 is said to still have many problems. Considering the schedule for release of PRD Version 1.0, it seems the first Bluetooth-compliant equipment will likely ship in
mid-2000.

Websites:
3com: http://www.3com.com
Casio: http://www.casio.co.jp
Ericsson: http://www.ericsson.com
HP: http://www.hp.com
IBM: http://www.ibm.com
Intel: http://www.intel.com
Lucent: http://www.lucent.com
Microsoft: http://www.microsoft.com
Motorola: http://www.mot.com
Nokia: http://www.nokia.fi
Philips: http://www.philips.com
Sharp: http://www.sharp.co.jp
Sony: http://www.sony.co.jp
Tactel: http://www.tactel.se
TDK: http://www.tdk.com
Toshiba: http://www.toshiba.co.jp
Xircom: http://www.xircom.com

(Hiroki Yomogita: April 2000 Issue, Nikkei Electronics Asia)


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