Mobile-phone-maker Nokia announced a new short-range wireless technology, Wibree, in October 2006. With several other formats for short-range wireless already on the market or in development, tech pundits questioned what niche Wibree would fill, or even if there was room for it at all. While the long-term success of Wibree remains to be seen, it does have several advantages over the competition, and it has been positioned as a compliment to Bluetooth technology rather than as a competitor.
Both Wibree and Bluetooth allow devices to communicate via short-range radio signals. Bluetooth can be used to perform a variety of tasks, including sharing files between a PC and a PDA, downloading an address book into a cell phone from a PC, and transmitting a signal from a remote control to a television. The Bluetooth radio operates at 2.4 GHz, "hopping" rapidly around different bands close to that frequency to provide security and resistance to interference from other signals (see How Bluetooth Works to learn more). Wibree, it turns out, will use the same radio frequency as Bluetooth, a major advantage over competitors. Using the same basic mechanism for wireless communication will make it much easier for devices to build in both Wibree and Bluetooth compatibility.
So why is Wibree a compliment to Bluetooth? It performs many of the same functions that Bluetooth does while using far less power. Wibree would allow for the use of wireless technology in many devices that require long battery life. People don't want to change the battery in their wireless keyboard or wireless-enabled watch every week, and with Wibree they wouldn't need to. Wibree chips are also smaller than Bluetooth chips, which would make it easier to use them in certain applications where space is at a premium.
However, Wibree transmits data more slowly than Bluetooth -- up to 1 megabit per second, compared to Bluetooth's 3 megabits per second. It's easy to see that Wibree can't go head to head with Bluetooth in applications in which more bandwidth is needed. The future of Wibree is complicated by the fact that existing wireless technologies are still evolving. While Nokia is likely hoping that Wibree will be completely integrated into Bluetooth at some point, developers are working to reduce the power draw of Bluetooth devices. If Bluetooth can work under low power, that pretty much invalidates the need for Wibree.
Specific details on Wibree's power consumption are not yet available -- Nokia's 2006 unveiling was a preliminary announcement, and the full specs won't be released until 2007. Wibree-enabled devices should hit the market in the next few years. By the way, if you're wondering where they got the name Wibree, Nokia hasn't offered any information, but it could be related to the name of another wireless technology that is in direct competition with Wibree: ZigBee