Bluetooth: A view from the top

There are 500 companies inviolved in Bluetooth, each with their own view on how the technology will be used. Below is a look at what the big boys reckon we will be using Bluetooth for.

Around 80 percent of mobile phones will be Bluetooth-enabled by the end of 2001 according to Nick Hunn, technical manager of TDK and Bluetooth guru.

Until now, says Hunn, Bluetooth has largely been the Ericsson, Nokia and Intel roadshow but the first Bluetooth conference, to be held in London in June, will see other companies like Motorola, Sony and Panasonic making major Bluetooth announcements.

But while interest in the technology grows, the timeline for Bluetooth has slipped. Version 1.0 of the specification, originally due to be published this month, will now showcase at the June conference. Announcements of products are expected by the end of the year, but will not, as hoped, be on the shelves for the millennium Christmas.

So what have the founding companies, Ericsson, Toshiba, IBM, Intel and Nokia been doing in the last year and how do they see the technology progressing in the future?

Ericsson came up with the idea for Bluetooth following research at its development centre in Lund, Sweden. The goal was to make a radio link that could replace cable between devices. Goram Svennarp, technology marketing manager for Ericcson believes the first Bluetooth enabled devices will be for high-end products.

One of the main advantages of Bluetooth, according to Svennarp, is the freedom it gives users to get on the Internet without cable, coupled with the ability to surf at the same time as talking on the phone. "Surfing on the sofa" via Bluetooth-enabled plug points in the home will become commonplace.

While admitting the technology had not originally been conceived as a home networking solution, Svennarp believes the potential for it in the home will be boosted more and more as devices incorporate the technology. "Fifty companies a week are signing up to Bluetooth. There has never been such huge interest in a standard before," he says.

Toshiba's contribution to Bluetooth was to "find the best way to integrate the standard" into devices says mobile product manager Andy French. French reckons Bluetooth will be a "sophisticated replacement" for the Infrared and cable standards, not least because it can allow multiple devices to communicate instantaneously. A demonstration at this year's CeBIT saw a Nokia 6110 handset communicating with a Toshiba notebook PC using Bluetooth.

French predicts notebooks containing the tiny Bluetooth radio transmitter will be available at the beginning of 2000. Denying the technology had teething problems with radio interference, French claimed "it caused less interference than a domestic microwave oven".

Intel, described by marketing manager for mobile computing Reiner Kreplin as "the godfather" of the project, has contributed its chip expertise to the Special Interest Group. Kreplin remains confident that version 1.0 of the Bluetooth specification will be ready by June and the first Bluetooth-enabled samples will be on show at Comdex in the autumn.

IBM has also participated heavily in the Bluetooth project. According to manager of communications technology, Modest Oprysko, Bluetooth will by no means be the only networking solution on the market. IBM is also involved in the Home Phone Networking Association which is focused on research into carrying data via existing phone lines.

According to Oprysko one of the biggest challenges facing the Bluetooth consortium has been how to make it as simple as possible for consumers to use, not to mention affordable: "When you introduce a new technology there is always some cost associated with it and there will be a premium for consumers initially," he said. What this premium would be he was not willing to say.

Take me to the Bluetooth special.

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