A number of Bluetooth-enabled products have already hit the market. Red-M, a networking equipment manufacturer, is supplying Access points and Bluetooth Internet servers, and Digi-answer, a subsidiary of Motorola, is supplying PC cards badged with the names of various different manufacturers.
Sony has invested in Bluetooth chip manufacture. A Bluetooth-enabled headset has appeared from GN Netcom, and more recently a whole host of new products have been unveiled including Nokia’s add-on device for its 6210 Mobile phone, Ericsson’s Bluetooth-enabled telephony headset, and bizarrely a range of Bluetooth-enabled jewellery from IBM.
“There is a huge move within the PC end of the IT industry to incorporate Bluetooth into laptops and PDAs,” says Jim Schoenenberger, head of telecommunications at Cambridge Consultants. “But more interestingly, we are beginning to see some large companies in the planning stages for Bluetooth implementations.
Others are just beginning to look at the concepts and are trying to work out how they can use it,” he adds.
As Bluetooth technology gains momentum so does the number of conceived implementations for the technology. Specialist companies like Red-M and Cambridge Consultants are continually finding new ways for companies to exploit short-range wireless comms. “Some companies are looking at the possibility of using Bluetooth technology in healthcare,” says Schoenenberger.
Wireless technology makes it possible to collect biometric data from a patient and have it analysed elsewhere – even the other side of the world if necessary.
He says, several airports are also in the planning stages for Bluetooth installations. According to networking company Red-M, your PDA or WAP phone will help you check in automatically with your electronic ticket being validated by the airport’s Bluetooth network. If you are registered as a frequent flyer you could even be upgraded automatically.
Unfortunately, the huge enthusiasm for Bluetooth and the genuine potential of the technology does not guarantee its success. It is well supported by an impressive number of suppliers from a range of industry sectors but several factors may yet hold it back. There is competition from other standards – Bluetooth is not the only wireless technology on the market.
Problems of interoperability between devices have yet to be solved and there is still great uncertainty about security and usage models. Laureen Cook, mobile partner from KPMG, comments: “Large corporations, especially those which may be undergoing a move are incorporating Bluetooth into their plans, but lots of companies are sceptical about security, and in lots of ways the jury is still out on the technology. The handshaking between devices is still being developed and this is crucial – you don’t want a confidential document ending up on a fellow colleague’s PC.”
David Johnson, telecoms specialist for Agency.com, reinforces this point: “If I am surfing the web on my PDA while on the train using a Bluetooth connection to my phone, how do I make sure that it is my phone and not the person sitting four rows up the carriage?”
Interoperability is also a big problem. Thousands of companies and thousands of potential product lines does not make for the easy development of a common standard. A recent report from Frost & Sullivan (The European Impact of Bluetooth) emphasises the point that, in order for Bluetooth to succeed, it is absolutely essential that products work with each other seamlessly.
“The temptation to release products quickly without thoroughly testing their compatibility is strong, since early branding could bolster sales,” says the report.
If Bluetooth is to thrive, the report concludes, vendors must be steered towards selling applications and solutions and not a technology to end-users. The point is that Bluetooth is not a new product but an added benefit to already existing products and in order for the technology to succeed it must exist all around us; in offices, shopping malls, airports, and other public places. Richard Payne, Bluetooth specialist at Accenture, says: “If the technology is to be used in this pervasive way, there is bound to be an infrastructure build-up cost. Imagine the scenario where you go into a shop and point your device at a product to get a buyer’s guide. Is there going to be the volume of users to make the implementation worthwhile? If not then its utility and value is limited.”
This chicken and egg scenario is common to new technologies and one of the major catalysts to mass adoption is low cost. “At the moment, the cost of a Bluetooth chip is about $30 and the figure for mass take up is about $5,” says Payne. As the Bluetooth chip becomes cheaper, the more the technology will be deployed, and the greater its effectiveness will be. There is little point in owning a Bluetooth device unless there are plenty of other devices to which yours can connect.
The enormous industry support for Bluetooth is a good indicator that it will have its day. A number of factors make the technology attractive.
It overcomes the limitations of infrared in terms of its range and requirement that devices are in each others line of sight. Also, it has a range of up to 10 metres and allows data and instructions to be passed through walls. The only limiting factor is that only eight devices can be linked together at any one time. In terms of wireless networking, Bluetooth will compete with wireless LAN technology (IEEE 802.11). “It may just end up being a personal area network technology connecting my devices together – phone, PDA, headset, digital camera,” says David Johnson from Agency.com. “The key advantage it has is cost, Bluetooth modules should be extremely cheap to add to devices,” he observes.
Problems with the first version of Bluetooth have caused delays with the release of some products. Recently, manufacturers have admitted that version 1.0 products are really just “show cases” for the technology which is to come. These early offerings suffer from power consumption problems and discrepancies in the specification have caused usability glitches.
Version 1.1, due to be ratified by April this year, promises to resolve many of these teething problems.
As far as Accenture is concerned, Payne admits that actual Bluetooth implementations are still in the R&D stage. “We are working on leading edge next generation technologies. We use the connectivity which Bluetooth technology provides to explore how you might apply it.” Meanwhile the momentum behind Bluetooth continues to grow. According to Frost & Sullivan’s report, the development and ultimately the market success of Bluetooth will be driven by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the establishment of the 802.15 standard for personal area networking (PAN). It says this will bring the expertise and rigour to the technology which is needed to resolve the problems of interoperability, security, and interference with other radio technologies.
WHAT IS BLUETOOTH?
The original Bluetooth concept developed by Ericsson was to create a low-power, low-cost radio interface between mobile phones and their accessories so as to eliminate the need for cables. The idea gradually gained momentum until in 1998 Ericsson shared its research with Nokia, Intel, IBM, and Toshiba, forming the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. The group has grown to more than 2,000 companies since then, making it the fastest growing industry standard ever.
Bluetooth uses a universal short-range radio technology which can provide links for voice, data and multimedia applications. Bluetooth-enabled devices can automatically sense each other, allowing instant two-way communication.
When one device detects another, the two form a loose network known as a personal area network or PAN. PAN clusters can then form into a kind of super-pan which use hub-units as a switch between different PANs. The active range of Bluetooth is 10 metres, enough to allow locally positioned devices, such as a mobile phone and a PDA, to interact. It is anticipated that Bluetooth capability will be built as standard into PCs, mobile phones, printers, PDAs, joysticks and even toys.