Bluetooth explosion may hinder development

Decay may have already set in according to one analyst

Bluetooth, the wireless technology on a chip, will see gargantuan growth over the next six years but could be scuppered by over zealous organisations trying to mould the technology to their own purpose. So says a report out Wednesday from global research firm Frost & Sullivan.

The report predicts that sales of Bluetooth products will rocket from $0 in 1999 to $36.7m in 2000, reaching $699.2m by 2006. The widespread industry support for the technology -- there are more than 1300 companies in the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) -- may lead to interoperability problems threatening the standard, says the report.

Jan ten Sythoff, author of the report, believes the competing members of the SIG, operating in various industry segments, may lead to splinter groups within four years. One of the major hurdles in Bluetooth's path, says Sythoff, is interoperability issues with competing wireless technologies, such as wireless LANs and HomeRF.

Although Sythoff is confident Bluetooth will quickly see off the threat of HomeRF, "in Europe because Europeans are not really interested in home networks" he believes wireless LAN technology throws up a different set of problems. Interference from wireless LANs means that while some members will want to make Bluetooth interoperable with them, or customise it so it acts as a wireless LAN, other companies will want it interoperable to keep their own solutions viable.

However this view is not shared by one of the foremost members of the Bluetooth SIG, Ericsson. Anders Edlund, an Ericsson spokesman, believes that such problems are "extremely unlikely". He explains, "I think what we have here is a misunderstanding of the philosophy behind Bluetooth," he says, "Wireless LAN technology is for the enterprise, whereas Bluetooth is for consumer devices."

Sythoff says interoperability is inevitable. "In the long run Bluetooth will have to become interoperable [with wireless LANs], in the office and Bluetooth on the move," he says. "People don't want three different technologies. That would mean they have to buy three different things."

The large installed base means that wireless LAN technology will not be killed off completely in Sythoff's opinion. One possible solution to the problem he sees is wireless LANs moving to the 5Gz frequency spectrum, thus avoiding interoperability issues.

Although Frost & Sullivan predicts the first commercial Bluetooth products will be available in mid 2000, Sythoff believes that these are likely to be high-end devices and does not expect to see the technology entering the mainstream until 2001/2002.

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