At the Bluetooth low energy preview day in Tokyo, a spokesman for Nokia reported an interesting statistic. Every year, 300,000 laptops are lost or left behind by passengers at U.S. airports. Apparently that’s greater than the number of mobile phones left at airports, suggesting that most travellers consider their phone to be more important than their laptop, but that’s another story. At first sight the figure seems staggering, but it’s only around one laptop per airport per day. What is staggering is the resulting cost of replacement, which equates to a third of a billion dollars every year.
The reason for raising this statistic is to point out one of the new applications which will be made possible by Bluetooth low energy. Bluetooth low energy (previously known as Wibree) is the new Bluetooth standard that is coming out this year and which enables devices to be produced which include a wireless link to transmit small amounts of data, and support a battery life that can extend into years. One of the first applications that will ship is access control or proximity detection. Which is why it can save the US economy $300,000,000 every year.
At a packed conference hall in Tokyo today, the Bluetooth SIG hosted the first public demonstrations of the new Bluetooth low energy standard to an audience of press and consumer electronics companies. This new standard will enable a wide range of connected devices to communicate with and through mobile phones. Four new chips were announced at the all-day event – a sure sign of gathering momentum.
The exciting aspect of Bluetooth low energy is its ability to enable low cost devices to be made that can send their data all of the way to the web. It’s based on over ten years of experience and promises to have the fastest growing ecosystem of any wireless standard. Today’s meeting sent a clear message to developers that they need to start designing now to be ready for the first generation of Bluetooth low energy handsets.
Ten years ago, Bluetooth, 802.11 and HomeRF were engaged in an acrimonious battle for supremacy over leadership as the short range radio standard. HomeRF died, and in the following years Bluetooth and 802.11 found their areas of application and now coexist together, to the extent of joining forces in the new Bluetooth 3.0 specification. Today a new and ferocious fight is taking place for the role of ultra low power radio champion. This time, there is likely to be just one winner.
In the two main corners of the ring are ZigBee PRO and Bluetooth low energy (previously known as Wibree). Alongside them, throwing lighter punches, are an array of lesser contenders, including Z-Wave, ANT, Wavenis, and Wireless M-Bus. What is at stake is the prize of becoming the standard for connecting low power consumer products to the next generation of mobile phones and enabling smart energy devices within the home.
Apple’s App Store is the flavour of the month in the mobile world. Everyone in mobile wants to have their own. At the Mobile World Congress operators and manufacturers were all jumping on the bandwagon and announcing their individual flavour of App Store, coming soon to a phone near you.
What wasn’t mentioned is how the App Store is redefining the relationships between the customer, the handset manufacturer and the network operator. I believe that it has the potential to drastically change the balance, with the network operator being emasculated and facing a future of becoming the dreaded “dumb pipe”. There may be a way out for them, but it will involve their thinking along very different and radical lines.
Just in time for the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the GSM Association has published a new milestone – the number of mobile subscribers in the world has just passed the four billion mark. That’s a pretty amazing number – equivalent to almost 60% of the world’s population. It seems that the demand for mobile connectivity is unstoppable. The same report predicts that the number of subscriptions will rise to six billion in 2013. That’s one phone for every person over the age of ten.
With numbers as spectacular as these it’s easy to sit back, smile smugly and give ourselves a well deserved pat on the back. But there’s another school of thought that says is six billion just being complacent? The insatiable desire for personal connectivity will almost certainly deliver the six billion, but what about the market for mobile subscriptions for machines. M2M has always been touted as the next great marketplace for mobile connectivity. The GSM Association acknowledges this with a new initiative. But if we look at numbers of machines, they’re an order of magnitude greater than people. Some years back Deloitte suggested that there would be 60 billion machines in existence by 202. If just a small percentage of these are connected, then the six billion target begins to look decidedly unambitious.
Last week’s announcement that the IP behind Meshnetics’ ZigBee stack is being acquired by Atmel underlines the continuing consolidation of the short range wireless industry. Since the boom in short range wireless that was started by Bluetooth and Wi-Fi there has been a growing number of VC funded silicon and stack companies entering this market space. It has been obvious for some time that the number of companies is not sustainable and that at some point the bubble would burst. The sale of Zensys to Sigma heralded the start of the process. 2009 will be the year when momentum builds and a lot more wireless dreams hit the buffers.