News | March 1, 2009

Bluetooth Low Energy Could Take Much Of The Explosive Growth Rate In RF Remotes

Source: Nordic Semiconductor ASA

Oslo, Norway -- Bluetooth low energy wireless technology (formerly ‘ultra low power Bluetooth', and before that ‘Wibree') could grab a large chunk of the exploding RF remote control sector, predicts Svenn-Tore Larsen, CEO of ultra low power (ULP) RF specialist, Nordic Semiconductor.

According to a recent study by ABI Research the RF remote control market is forecast to grow at a compound 55% annual growth rate (CAGR) between now and 2014. This forecast is supported by the Bluetooth SIG's announcement2 that in addition to being power and cost optimized for sport, wellbeing and Human Interface Device (HID) product categories, the upcoming Bluetooth low energy stack will be intentionally engineered to support a universally interoperable, consumer electronics (CE) RF remote control specification capable of replacing traditional infrared (IR) technology.

"RF remotes haven't yet really taken off with major CE manufacturers or consumers," says Larsen. "It's not because of lack of demand – everyone dislikes having a pile of different, incompatible IR remote controls on their living room table – but because CE manufacturers know consumers won't embrace RF fully until there is an interoperable technology widely available.

"This interoperability issue will be solved with the rollout of Bluetooth low energy wireless technology later this year. At the same time the end-user benefits of RF over IR will encourage consumers to buy Bluetooth low energy RF remotes, even in the current tough economic climate, and even though RF alternatives will inevitably be priced to include a small cost premium compared to now ‘giveaway' IR."

The advantages of RF include a long, 10 meter (plus) through-wall or object range; and a high bandwidth that can be used to report back live, two-way status information from the device under control that can be displayed to a small screen on the remote.

"The fact that Bluetooth low energy will be part of the open Bluetooth standard also means that CE manufacturers will be assured of multiple supply sources for Bluetooth low energy-based silicon which will no doubt also play a key role in its widescale adoption and success," says Larsen. "Consequently the technology could well grow to dominate the RF remote control sector."

Bluetooth low energy promises to be much more than a simple wireless replacement technology for traditional IR remote controls because it will be incorporated into the next generation of cell phones as a replacement for the ‘classic' Bluetooth chips currently included.

This will mean that the cell phone in everybody's pocket will be able to additionally function as a remote control for any Bluetooth low energy-equipped CE appliance within a household. And because coin cell batteries can power Bluetooth low energy wireless technology, this RF remote control functionality could even extend to devices with traditionally small battery capacities, such as wristwatches.

"The full rollout of the Bluetooth low energy standard later this year will offer the first universal approach to RF remote control," summarizes Larsen. "This is an extremely exciting prospect that we believe will have substantial and far reaching, positive consequences for the electronics industry. A typical IR remote hasn't really altered much since the 1980s, so it's not surprising there is a pent-up demand and requirement for RF technology capable of meeting the expectations of 21st century consumers familiar with the transformational CE product advances that have occurred over that time."

Nordic Semiconductor is an associate member of the Bluetooth SIG, and has contributed core expertise in ultra-low power RF design to the forthcoming specification for Bluetooth low energy wireless technology. The company will be among the first to offer Bluetooth low energy ICs when the specification is released in the second half of this year.

SOURCE: Nordic Semiconductor ASA