By Nancy Maas, Editor-in-Chief?
Get ready Bluetooth because another player has entered into the Personal Area Network (PAN) market. Challenging the future of Bluetooth, a new start-up called Ozmo Devices and an Intel Corporation program point to a future for Wi-Fi in a broad range of peripherals, ranging from computer mice to cellular handsets and MP3 players.?Ozmo, a bay area start-up company that has raised $12.5 million since 2005, has introduced a new low-powered Wi-Fi chip and software that it claims will offer wireless peripherals more bandwidth and battery life for less cost than Bluetooth. The company is working with Intel®, which has been researching the potential of Wi-Fi PANs for its mainstream Centrino® notebooks.

In order for the Ozmo technology to work, device makers will need to embed Ozmo’s software, and peripheral makers will have to integrate the Ozmo chip, which includes a subset of the Wi-Fi standard, into their devices.?For laptop and device manufacturers, using Ozmo’s software means not having to include a separate Bluetooth radio in these devices to connect to peripherals, instead manufacturers can simply use the Wi-Fi chips that already exist in laptops, gaming consoles, mobile handsets and other devices.

The company feels the time is right for Wi-Fi to make a play in low-cost, low power short range applications, and they are confident that they have developed a technology to make it happen. Ozmo leverages the fact that a wide range of notebooks and, increasingly media players — including Apple iPod Touch — use Wi-Fi. That enables the company to offer peripheral makers a stripped-down, dual-band 802.11n chip that has a 10 m range and sells for about the same price as a Bluetooth chip.

According to Ozmo, the technology does have strong differentiators, e.g. faster data rates and improved battery life on the actual peripherals, compared to Bluetooth. And, because security is already built into Wi-Fi standards such as 802.11n, they claim that Ozmo’s Wi-Fi technology is also more secure than Bluetooth.

While it’s unlikely that Bluetooth will disappear any time soon, if ever, Wi-Fi will certainly give the technology a run for its money, especially if Ozmo’s technology lives up to the cost and performance benefits they claim. But here’s a thought — Can they co-exist? Are there enough opportunities for both technologies to be successful? Like most other past major introductions in this marketplace, ultimately, it will be the consumer who actually decides which technology comes out the winner in this race. It all comes down to cost and performance. They will choose which experience they prefer and, at the same time, meets their individual expectations.

One last note — don't forget to check out our new sections: Brainstorm and Design Talk in this issue. Feel free to respond and let us know what you think.