Bluetooth buzz

DN Staff

January 8, 2001

7 Min Read
Bluetooth buzz

Nobody likes cables. They get tangled and misplaced. They're always too short. And every device seems to need its own special cable and connector.

One cable-killing technology that could take off in a big way this year is Bluetooth(TM), according to analysts at Cahners In-Stat Group. Named for Harald Bluetooth, the tenth century Viking king who united Denmark and Norway, the 2,000-plus-member Bluetooth Special Interest Group sees the technology uniting the worlds of computers and telecommunications. Easily, automatically, and wirelessly. In-Stat predicts that by 2005, the market for Bluetooth hardware and software components will approach $5 billion, and 1.4 billion Bluetooth chips will ship that year.

Announced in May of 1998, Bluetooth enables wireless, short-range connections between desktop and laptop PCs, PDAs, mobile phones, pagers, modems, printers, keyboards, headsets, digital cameras, and practically any other digital device via a small-form-factor, low-cost 2.4-GHz radio. Short range means about a thirty-foot radius, and radio means that users don't have to worry about line-of-sight connections. Bluetooth supports both data and voice communications with a total bandwidth of 1 Mbps.

Examples of living with Bluetooth include:

Locating a Bluetooth-enabled printer anywhere in the house and being able to print to it from anywhere in the house without a hard-wired connection.

Attaching one Bluetooth modem to the family room wall that multiple PCs, laptops, phones, and other devices could use from anywhere in the house-without installing a home network.

Using a cordless Bluetooth headset to connect to your briefcase-bound mobile phone. (Of course, the mobile phone connects to the Internet the way it always has.)

Automatic synchronization of your desktop PC, laptop, PDA, and mobile phone.

And automatically transferring documents and exchanging electronic business cards during conferences and meetings. (Just think how many colds could be prevented.)

Functional block diagram shows all the components necessary for adding Bluetooth connectivity to an embedded application. Alcatel engineers have managed to integrate them all in one device -- the radio antenna an dexternal passive components are integrated into the layers of the ball-grid-array package.

All this connecting doesn't just happen willy-nilly. The Bluetooth physical layer specifies connections as requiring 1-way, 2-way, or no authentication. So, users can control who and what their Bluetooth-enabled devices talk to.

Initial applications will be mobile phones and notebook PCs, as well as PC cards and other adapters. In fact, PC Cards from Toshiba, Motorola, and IBM started shipping last year. These products slide into a PCMCIA slot to add Bluetooth functions to existing products, such as laptop computers, PDAs, and digital cellular phones.

The average homeowner interacts with up to 80 microcontrollers before noon every day. Adding connectivity to these microcontroller-based devices could help simplify and centralize the control of all these intelligent systems.

So how do you get your products to speak Bluetooth? The options include using off-the-shelf Bluetooth chips, chipsets, or modules; designing an ASIC with a licensed Bluetooth IP core; and designing the radio circuitry into the product at the component level.

Designing-in Bluetooth from scratch is difficult and time consuming-just ask any of the silicon vendors who have already done it. But as the technology progresses, this route will become easier, there will be more tools and specialized components to ease the pain, and you'll end up with a more efficient design.

ARC Cores (Elstree, England) recently announced its BlueARC(TM)intellectual property core, a synthesizeable hardware and software package based on the company's user-configurable 32-bit Tangent-A4 microprocessor. The hardware is portable to a range of chip-fabrication processes. This option will shorten the development cycle-especially if you can have an experienced third party design the ASIC-reduce the silicon requirement, and lower power consumption. However, building ASICs is expensive and would only be cost effective in high volumes, and BlueARC contains hardware descriptions for the broadband controller and Bluetooth radio interface, but not the radio itself.

The radio element-especially the antenna design and placement-is the major challenge designers will face when integrating Bluetooth. Many designers aren't familiar with RF design, which some regard as difficult and even a bit mysterious.

Silicon vendors are addressing this aspect of Bluetooth design with products that include the Bluetooth radio, antenna, or both. The Odyssey chipset from Silicon Wave (San Diego) includes the SiW1601 Link Controller for data-processing functions and the SiW1501 Radio Modem IC, which combines the Bluetooth radio-transceiver, synthesizer, and modem functions into a 7x7-mm package.

UK-based CSR (Cambridge Silicon Radio) has reached volume production for its single-chip BlueCore(TM)01, which includes a radio, baseband, microcontroller, integrated Bluetooth software stack, and support for a USB connection. The single-chip design simplifies design ins, speeds time to market, and reduces parts count and costs. But you'll need an antenna. You can roll your own, or buy an antenna from gigaAnt (Sweden), RangeStar Wireless (Aptos, CA), or another supplier.

One chip that does have the antenna is Alcatel's Bluetooth Single Chip. In fact, it packs all Bluetooth functions-including RF, baseband, processor, memory, antenna, and filtering circuitry-into a 12x12-mm, 1.4-mm-high single-die package. The chip lets designers without RF expertise add Bluetooth functionality to a range of products, speed time to market, and reduce development costs. But for some applications, such as headsets, this chip may be overkill; the size and location of the antenna might not suit certain products; and shielding problems would prevent desktop PC makers from putting the antenna-equipped chip on the motherboard. Alcatel also offers a version without the antenna.

What do you need to know about embedded systems?

This article is the first of a monthly series on "Embedded Systems and the OEM Engineer," alternately sponsored by Microchip Technology and Texas Instruments. Today's products are designed by teams-the electronics segment is part of the total design and not relegated to specialists. The lead engineer-who may or may not be an electrical engineer-is often the one who chooses a microcontroller, digital signal processor, or embedded operating system. And the trend of adding intelligence to everything from household appliances and automobiles to medical equipment and machine tools is just getting started. What do you need to know to specify the best components for your particular application? What seemingly "dumb" products are you reincarnating with embedded brains? What are your greatest challenges and frustrations? We really want to know. Please send any questions, answers, or comments to Contributing Editor Julie Anne McNamara at [email protected]

Free kit eases connectivity design

To help engineers understand the different connectivity options for embedded applications, Microchip Technology offers a free Connectivity Power Pack. The Connectivity Power Pack features information necessary to design and implement embedded connectivity, including application notes, reference designs, development systems, evaluation tools, product datasheets, and the company's product line card.

Learn how Microchip's high-performance devices support:

Controller Area Network (CAN). CAN 2.0 Active Specification is a serial communications protocol that supports distributed real-time control with a high level of data integrity and flexibility. CAN is ideal for implementing command, control, and communications in electrically noisy environments, such as automotive and industrial control applications. Microchip offers both integrated and stand-alone CAN controller solutions.

Local Interconnect Network (LIN). Introduced in 2000 by a consortium of European automotive manufacturers, the LIN protocol is a short-distance, low-speed network that runs under CAN to enable low-cost electronic intelligence throughout a vehicle.

Universal Serial Bus (USB). USB 1.1 is a low-speed interface for connecting PC peripherals such as high-end pointing devices, uninterruptible power supplies, joysticks, and protocol converters or adapters.

Internet Connectivity. Various Internet protocols-including TCP/IP-let embedded systems connected and operate over the Internet. Microchip's low-cost, high-performance devices make Internet interface powerful and affordable.

Microchip's PICmicro(R)microcontrollers meet the sophisticated demands of connected systems. The PIC18CXXX family, for example, offers up to 32 kbytes of program memory and 1.5 kbytes of RAM in 28- to 80-pin packages. All reprogrammable PICmicro devices let engineers update systems in the field to accommodate evolving connectivity standards. Microchip's 18-pin MCP2510 CAN interface controller connects with microcontrollers via the industry-standard SPI serial interface, enabling designers to add CAN functionality without updating the microcontroller. Features include interrupt capability, message masking and filtering, message prioritization, multipurpose I/O pins, and multiple transmit/receive buffers that offload CAN message traffic overhead from the microcontroller.

To order a Connectivity Power Pack, visit Microchip's website at and follow the Connectivity link.

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