Exhibitors at this week's annual Bluetooth World Congress, beginning on Tuesday, are pushing the wireless cable-replacement technology into realms where it has not gone before.
New products announced at the show aim to put Bluetooth in industrial applications and to improve its implementation in CDMA handsets. Other vendors are offering Bluetooth radios in smaller, more efficient packages, integrating it with Wi-Fi and using Bluetooth to distribute applications in retail outlets.
Bluetooth is being increasingly criticised for interoperability and ease-of-use problems, but the technology is continuing to find its way into more devices. This year alone, iSuppli expects 225 million individual Bluetooth devices to ship, up from 41 million last year, and by 2006 that number is projected to grow to one billion. Bluetooth semiconductor revenue will grow from $330m (£201m) last year to £2.5bn in 2006, iSuppli said.
Key to Bluetooth's growth is expected to be its expansion from mobile phones, handheld computers and PCs into applications such as industrial equipment and telematics. TDK Systems is aiming to stimulate that market with a range of Bluetooth adapters introduced at the expo.
"Bluetooth was originally developed as a wireless technology -- primarily for short-range exchange of data between laptops, PDAs and mobile phones," said Nick Hunn, managing director at TDK Systems, in a statement. But, he said, when beta adaptors were released to industrial engineers and OEMs at the end of last year, "demand soon proved overwhelming".
TDK's Blu2i product range is aimed at industrial equipment such as cash registers, gaming machines, utility meters, CCTV systems in large buildings, and air conditioners, where a connection would ordinarily be made by a serial port, USB port or other physical connection. The adapters include a complete Bluetooth stack, meaning that the devices they are connected to do not need to have Bluetooth drivers installed; the Bluetooth connections are recognised as conventional serial port or USB connections.
Other vendors are looking to tap the market for Bluetooth in mobile phone handsets based on CDMA, a mobile phone technology popular in the US. Qualcomm and Broadcom said on Monday they will work together on CDMA Bluetooth, combining Qualcomm's baseband with Broadcom's RF technology, with a particular slant towards 3G CDMA hardware.
Silicon Wave last week introduced the single-chip SiW1712 radio modem designed for CDMA chip sets that already have an integrated Bluetooth baseband. The device is designed to integrate with baseband circuits from a variety of manufacturers.
Wi-Fi, or 802.11b, has emerged as Bluetooth's major competitor where it comes to connecting mobile devices to a PC or Internet connection, and some vendors have responded by producing products that combine the two technologies. On Tuesday, Agere Systems said that it is working with Taiwan original design manufacturer (ODM) Universal Scientific Industrial on an 802.11b/Bluetooth module specifically designed for handheld devices.
Some handhelds already include both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, but Agere said that USI's product is the first to combine the two into a single module tailored for handhelds. The aim of such integration is to make it cheaper for manufacturers to include both technologies.
The module uses Agere's WaveLAN(tm) chipset, which includes digital baseband, direct-down conversion radio, media access controller (MAC), power management chips and software drivers. The Bluetooth silicon is supplied by Cambridge Silicon Radio.
On the shop floor
On the end-user side, Finland-based BlueGiga is offering a server product that allows retailers to distribute Java and Symbian OS applications to their customers through a quick wireless transaction. Symbian is an operating system used in smartphones from Nokia, Sony Ericsson and others, while a broad range of mobile phones are capable of running Java applications, typically games.
BlueGiga's Installation Point application, which runs on the company's WRAP (Wireless Remote Access Platform) Access Server, allows customers to receive an application via Bluetooth directly on the shop floor. The transfer is initiated when the customer sends a business card to the server.
The firm said Installation Point could be used to distribute promotional software such as a Java game or information about the local area. The application will be available from next month.
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