Microsoft joins Bluetooth SIG

The software giant goes for Bluetooth, but what of Home RF?

Following much speculation , Microsoft has joined the Promoter Group of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), formed Wednesday.

Microsoft is joined by other new entries, 3Com, Lucent and Motorola.

The Bluetooth Promoter Group is a consortium of companies charged with driving the development of the wireless technology, setting standards and bringing products to market.

Microsoft joining the group is a huge stamp of approval for the technology. Up to now the consortium has been viewed largely as a telecoms initiative headed by Nokia and Ericsson. "This is a stamp of acceptability from the PC community," said TDK technical manager Nick Hunn, "The rest felt that until Bluetooth had Microsoft's approval it had a sword hanging over its head."

Glen Collinson, marketing director for Cambridge Silicon Radio, a UK a company that plans to deliver the first single-chip Bluetooth solution, agrees the decision by Microsoft is "extremely important in demonstrating the unaninimity of the PC and telecoms industry behind the standard."

Microsoft's reticence in joining the Bluetooth consortium is well documented. According to Hunn the software giant has had no real need to sign up because it had already allocated engineers to work on Bluetooth technology and the consortium was writing the specs irrespective of its membership. Hunn believes Microsoft is following its usual path of "waiting to see what's accepted and then supporting it." External pressure has most likely forced the software giant's hand, with "constant questions in the media asking if this can be a proper standard without Microsoft," Hun said.

Microsoft may also have been wary of the Bluetooth criteria that members must give up their intellectual property rights for any contribution to the standard. Anders Edlund, director of Bluetooth marketing at Ericsson agreed that "several major corporations have an issue with intellectual property." However this may be less of a problem since the publication of the Bluetooth specifications earlier this year. Companies are now able to review the publicly available specifications to judge whether they have any related intellectual property.

Mike Wehrs, group manager for products at Microsoft, denied that IP concerns stalled the company joining the group. "We are happy to see the combined IP needed to create this platform," he said.

One of the possible outcomes of Microsoft's official support for Bluetooth is that it could hasten the death of the Home RF initiative, a competing home wireless technology supported by Intel, Microsoft and Motorola. With Microsoft committed to Bluetooth, Hunn sees "no good reason for Home RF to take off."

Microsoft was not able to give details of when products would appear with built-in Bluetooth support. Wehrf said that it would be "not until at least Q2 or Q3 before there is significant deployment." The announcement would definitely have no impact on Windows 2000, he said.

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