Bluetooth: Ready to ship

Bluetooth is finally ready to go, with first batch products set to arrive within the next few months, while the technology is promising, its pricing may be prohibitive.

Bluetooth is finally ready to go, with first batch products set to arrive within the next few months, while the technology is promising, its pricing may be prohibitive.

While Bluetooth may have been slow off the starting block, products with the much-hyped (but as yet little-seen) short-distance radio-frequency technology are on their way, with the first batch set to arrive within the next few months. Don't hold your breath, though.

Ready ...

...more than 1 billion pieces of Bluetooth-enabled equipment will be on the market by 2005.

"One reason it's taken a little longer to get products to market is we're focusing on interoperability," says Linda Billhymer, director of marketing for Motorola's personal area networks division in Chicago.

"That's the whole idea - to allow devices to work as a team. That takes more time. There's all kinds of testing to be done and test specifications to be completed. But that commitment strengthens the standard because it guarantees consumers will be able to use these devices as intended."

According to Cahners In-Stat Group, Bluetooth chip production will reach 1.4 billion and more than 1 billion pieces of Bluetooth-enabled equipment will be on the market by 2005.

That's not surprising, given that Bluetooth has the backing of a powerful industry group. Nearly 1,900 companies belong to the Bluetooth SIG, led by Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia and Toshiba.

Set!

The first version of the technology, released in July 1999, specified a spread-spectrum, frequency-hopping wireless standard for data and voice communication.

"If you want to go to the printer on your desk or sync up with a Palm Pilot or a WorkPad, you'd use Bluetooth technology to do that."

- Jeff Clark
IBM

The specification defines an effective throughput of 726Kbps using the 2GHz unlicensed band between devices no more than about 30 feet apart. (Implementations can go up to 150 feet or more with an amplifier.)

Moreover, one Bluetooth-enabled device can communicate simultaneously with seven others in a setup called a piconet.

Up to eight piconets can operate within range of each other. "You can have 64 devices right on top of each other with no interference," says John Webb, marketing programs manager at Intel.

The first revision of the specification was written for the initial Bluetooth usage model: file synch, file transfer, and the like. The 2.0 specification, which is expected late this year or in 2001, will add such capabilities as audio/visual transmission, human interface devices and streaming video.

In terms of how the technology works, think two-way radio on a chip. It is what Jeff Clark, a program director at IBM in Raleigh, N.C., calls a "cable-replacement application." Clark says, "If you want to go to the printer on your desk or sync up with a Palm Pilot or a WorkPad, you'd use Bluetooth technology to do that."

Go?

Although the technology seems to have a real place, it's going to be too expensive at the outset for widespread use.

Intel's initial Bluetooth chips will run its OEMs about $30, says Webb, adding that Bluetooth was developed to be a less-than-$10 technology.

That's what Joyce Putscher, director of consumer and converging markets and technologies at Cahners In-Stat Group says will have to happen.

"As you see the price get to $10 and less, it's going to be included in midrange products. As the cost gets closer to $5, you're going to see it integrated in consumer products."

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