Super-Bluetooth making its way into mobiles

SK Telecom is going to launch “super Bluetooth” aka ultra wideband (UWB) on the mobile market, despite an industry avoidance of the protocol.

The South Korean mobile operator will be providing the technology — which can transfer data at 480Mbit/s — in handsets that should reach users in 2008.

“Until now, mobile operators saw any fast I/O in their devices as a hole through which money could flow. They have gone to great lengths to bastardize it,” said Mark Bowles, founder and marketing vice president of UWB silicon maker Staccato.

Mobile operators are widely blamed for the slow acceptance of UWB, which has recently received approval from the EC. The technology operates across a wide spectrum, but at power levels lower than the electrical noise from other devices. Despite this, operators have lobbied regulators to bar UWB from spectrum where they have licences, leading at times to fears that UWB may be restricted in the global market.

“SK has realized it can monetize UWB in significant ways,” said Bowles. The operator will use it to communicate with large screens and keyboards, paving the way for people to use their phone as their main mobile computing device, linking up to other devices as needed. In effect, it will act as a super-fast Bluetooth equivalent on the phones — although in fact it will implement the Wireless USB standard, according to Bowles.

This personal area network will be extended by what Staccato calls Personal Area Social Networking (PASN — pronounced, Bowles tells us coyly, “passion”). The devices would be able to log friends as you pass near them, either telling you who was around at the end of the day, or alerting you to them at the time.

With high bandwidth, these contacts could be extended to share content, so for instance, a user could send a time-limited copy of his favorite music to every friend he meets, getting a commission for every one who buys the full version.

The company also hopes to build an eco-system of services provided in kiosks in shops — allowing users to download music and movies very quickly, and shop owners to provide locally streamed content. “You can combine the latte and Blockbuster stop, or download a movie at the airport,” said Bowles.

“This is to be expected of SK Telecom, who has always pioneered the enrichment of mobile phone applications,” commented analysts ARCchart, in a published note. While other operators have not welcomed UWB, SK Telecom operates in the high-tech world of South Korea, and has successfully launched content services; 90 percent of Korean 20-year olds have accounts on SK’s Myspace-like Cyworld service.

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