Wi-Fi Bluetooth collision

I already wrote about how Bluetooth is specifying Wi-Fi for its high bandwidth transport in a future version. Now there’s another interesting Bluetooth/Wi-Fi juxtaposition.

You may remember that last year Bluetooth subsumed WiBree as an ultra low power consumption variant. Now something analogous is happening in Wi-Fi, where a startup called Ozmo has come up with an ultra low power variation of Wi-Fi, which it is pitching as a substitute for Bluetooth.

Ozmo is not the first to propose this. Nanoradio claims that its implementation of Wi-Fi consumes way less power than Bluetooth, and they have a reference design for a Wi-Fi headset to demo the concept. Atheros has also recently announced a low-power Wi-Fi chip – so low that they claim “near zero” stand-by power consumption.

So Ozmo may not be so radical in its low-power claims, but it also claims low-cost. The Ozmo chip is priced the same as Bluetooth chips, which Ozmo estimates are between 1/4 and 1/3 the cost of Wi-Fi chips.

The Atheros and Nanoradio chips are full implementations of Wi-Fi; Ozmo’s is, according to this EETimes article, a “stripped down” version. This may mean that it is a non-standard version, in which case it would need a new certification program from the Wi-Fi Alliance – not a major obstacle, I presume, in view of Intel’s strong support for Ozmo.

So why would anybody want a version of Wi-Fi to substitute for Bluetooth, when we already have Bluetooth? Well, while most phones come with Bluetooth these days, in the PC world Wi-Fi is far more common than Bluetooth. So for peripherals designed exclusively for PCs, like mice and keyboards, Wi-Fi makes more sense than Bluetooth simply on the grounds of out-of-the-box compatibility. Add the technical benefits, like coexistence (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi tend to step on each others’ toes) and superior performance (Ozmo claims double the battery life in similar applications to Bluetooth), and it seems like a no-brainer.

The factors that could cause it to fail are ease of use and price. The setup of the peripherals with the PC must be completely automatic, and the operation of the devices must be flawless. Peripheral manufacturers must produce Wi-Fi versions of all their wireless products, and price them the same as their Bluetooth versions. The Wi-Fi drivers on the PC side will have to be modified in order to permit the PC Wi-Fi to communicate simultaneously with access points and peripherals. This is being done anyway by Intel, in a project called “Cliffside.”

All these impediments are mitigated considerably by Intel’s involvement. Intel makes most of the Wi-Fi chips in PCs, and presumably these chips will support the Ozmo products. With this assurance, peripheral manufacturers will feel comfortable going ahead with Ozmo-powered products.

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