The Emergence of Wibree
Have you ever been walking behind someone on the street, watching him or her seemingly talk to (or yell at) no one in particular? You start scratching your head, wondering whether they’ve just escaped from a mental institution, then you see a small, blue, blinking device tucked in the person’s ear. “Of course,” you say to yourself. “Bluetooth.”
This sort of occurrence is likely to happen more with the emergence of Wibree, Nokia’s wireless technology that’s complements and is unique to Bluetooth. With uses as varied as watches to health monitors, people might begin talking to things, not just themselves.
Making sure those devices are all on the same “digital page,” however, is Nokia’s goal, said Jamey Hicks, Nokia Research Center Cambridge (Mass.) director.
“There are currently wristwatches that connect to health monitors or GPS modules or to information from personal computers, but each company uses a different wireless communication standard, so it’s impossible to buy a wristwatch that communicates to a health monitor and a mobile phone, for example,” Hicks said. “Having an open wireless standard such as Wibree enables many companies to develop products that work together, giving more choice and flexibility to consumers.”
Wibree is a digital radio technology designed for low-button cell battery power consumption within a range of 30 feet based around low-cost transceiver microchips in each device.
Nokia recently announced Wibree technology as an open industry initiative that extends local connectivity to small devices, as well as being complementary with other local connectivity technologies by consuming only a fraction of the power compared with other such radio technologies.
Companies such as Broadcom Corp., CSR, Epson and Nordic Semiconductor have all licensed Wibree technology for commercial chip implementation. The next step is to put the technology through a standardization process so that Wibree can be presented to third-party businesses.
Wibree can be used as either a stand-alone chip or as Bluetooth-Wibree dual-mode chip. The former will include smaller devices such as watches, health monitors and even smart jewelry, whereas the dual-mode solution will be Bluetooth devices such as cell phones and laptops, extending the device connectivity to new range of smallest devices —devices that only require small data transfers such as a wrist watch would use Wibree, and the devices requiring large data transfers would use the dual chip.
Wibree isn’t the only technology being standardized with other companies. ZigBee is a similar-sounding wireless technology with partners such as Invensys, Honeywell, Mitsubishi Electric, Motorola and Philips. Both Wibree and ZigBee are based on low-battery output and industry standardization, but ZigBee is designed to handle more “smart” home technologies such as heating. The overlap between the two will be the medical and sport sensor arenas.
It is yet to be determined how ZigBee will affect the emergence of Wibree, but because they generally focus on different areas, they are not considered direct competition, Hicks said.
“Wibree and ZigBee use quite different encodings of data, so they are unlikely to work together,” he said. “ZigBee is primarily targeting a different market from Wibree. ZigBee is primarily targeting home, building and industrial automation, while Wibree is targeting mobile consumer products.”
Hicks also said consumers should begin to see the Wibree technology on the market second quarter of 2007. Further, because it is a new technology standard, the success of Wibree largely will depend on the creativity of third-party vendors, he said.
“Wibree will be a standard like Bluetooth, with products from many vendors,” Hicks said. “Success of each avenue will depend on companies producing Interesting devices and applications addressing needs in each market.”