Wireless equipment maker Nokia yesterday introduced Wibree, a new short-range technology operating in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band that is as robust as Bluetooth but utilizes less power than Zigbee.

Nokia officials are adamant that the new technology is not designed to compete with other wireless technologies that operate at short ranges, but Wibree’s data rate of 1 MB/s and range of 10 meters are almost identical to Bluetooth. The difference is that Wibree uses a fraction of the power used by Bluetooth, enabling personal-area communications with watches, wireless keyboards, toys and sports sensors, which have limited battery capacity.

Wibree requires less power because it utilizes dynamic lengths—instead of the fixed packet lengths used by Bluetooth—and does not incorporate frequency hopping as Bluetooth does, said Jani Tierala, Nokia Research Center business development manager. Wibree is an ideal solution in situations where bursty data transfers are needed, while Bluetooth is better equipped to handle larger data loads, he said.

“As the data amount you want to transfer grows, then the Wibree packets would reach their maximum and you don’t get much power-consumption savings,” Tierala said. “All of the use cases we have targeted with Wibree are when you are infrequently sending small amounts of data.”

Wibree’s throughput is much greater than Zigbee, which is a low-power technology geared toward the industrial-automation industry. Wibree uses less power than Zigbee and does not require a power-hungry node to work, but Tierala said he does not believe Wibree will affect Zigbee’s target market.
“I would say the mesh-network capability of Zigbee definitely provides value [in the industrial sector],” he said. “This is not something we’re addressing with Wibree, … which provides point-to-multipoint functionality.”

Instead, Nokia believes Wibree will be most successful in four markets: sports, healthcare, entertainment and in the office environment.

Nokia is leading a forum that hopes to finalize a specification during the second quarter of 2007. One forum member, Nordic Semiconductor, has said it plans to have Wibree chips available during the second half of 2007, Tierala said.