The popular wireless technology known as Bluetooth could get a lot faster next year by taking advantage of Wi-Fi technology already built into many gadgets.
Linking Bluetooth and Wi-Fi may make it easier and faster to transfer large amounts of music between computers and cell phones, or send pictures from a camera phone to a printer, or video from a camcorder to a TV.
Michael Foley, director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, said the first devices with the technology could be on the market in the middle of next year. The industry group behind Bluetooth, which has more than 10,000 member companies, plans to announce Monday that it is pursuing the technology and will make it available next year.
A fast transfer channel for Bluetooth using a different radio technology, ultra-wideband, was announced in 2006, but delays in getting it to work prompted the Bluetooth group to look at Wi-Fi too, Foley said.
Some products, like laptops, already combine Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functions, but they work off separate chips. Most likely, manufacturers will use single chips still under development that combine Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities.
"It does appear that the first products ... are going to be Bluetooth-Wi-Fi, and our members want to take advantage of that," Foley said, adding that all the major makers of Bluetooth chips are participating in the project.
The combination devices will use the regular low-power Bluetooth radios to recognize each other and establish connections. If they need to transfer a large file, they will be able to turn on their Wi-Fi radios, then turn them off to save power after finishing the transfer, Foley said.
The new technology doesn't have a name, and it isn't clear how consumers will be able to tell it apart from Bluetooth-UWB devices, which the industry group still supports.
"This in no way ... changes our vision of using ultra-wideband technology for high speed when that technology is ready," Foley said.
While it started out as a specific radio technology, Bluetooth is turning into an umbrella standard for a variety of different radio technologies. Apart from the high-speed flavors, the SIG has incorporated an ultra-low-power wireless technology developed by Nokia Corp. and previously known as Wibree. Products like watches and pedometers that use that technology are also expected to hit the market next year.