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.
At last week’s G20 summit, the GSM Association assembled 24 of their operators to provide a petition requesting access to more spectrum. The reason was to allow them to make mobile broadband a key part of their country’s broadband plans. Whether or not they get their wish is still to be seen, but it sends a powerful message that they, as well as fixed line operators, can be part of the broadband future.
That’s important for them, as it places them far more firmly on their individual country’s roadmap towards a broadband future. In turn, that’s important to handset developers, who will see it as justification to include broadband related technologies and features. And it’s important to manufacturers of connected consumer devices that will extend the broadband reach beyond the handset. It gives further emphasis to Bluetooth’s claim to be the mainstream low power technology for low power healthcare devices. The reason is simple – an expansion of handsets supporting mobile broadband will mean a bigger critical mass of Bluetooth gateways. That’s a reality the Continua Health Alliance and health device designers needs to factor into their plans.
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.
At some point in the future, we’re going to come out of recession. What’s almost certain is that the economic landscape will have changed. One of the changes is likely to be a major reduction in the size and strength of the financial services sector. There’s a strong possibility that it will not be the economic powerhouse that it has been over the previous decade. Which raises the question of what will take its place?
One of the candidates being talked about is healthcare. We are entering recession with a population that is ageing. Politicians are talking about the need to reform healthcare systems to cope with this demographic change, as well as with the rising levels of long term, chronic conditions within the population at large. In most of the Western world healthcare currently accounts for around 10% of GDP, rising to almost 20% in the US. It could be that heaIthcare will become the focus for the next major service development.
Over the next few weeks in the UK, conferences are taking place that look at the structure and needs of Assisted Living, as well as the funding that is available. These include a themed networking event at de Montfort University (which is free to attend) and an in-depth, two day conference run by the IET in London. In the same fortnight, at least three other smaller scale conferences are running at other venues in the UK. The interest level is definitely rising.
Healthcare needs to change and evolve. If innovators rise to the challenge we may see Assisted Living and eHealth move from their current position of “poor cousins” to become as mainstream and as important to our economies as other services have been in the past. I’ll be speaking and posting reports from these conferences to indicate the temperature. I hope to meet some of you there.