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Bluetooth: When will it take off?
By Shubha Murthy and Mahesh Rathod

Here is a peak into what vendors are doing to promote Bluetooth technology and the many hurdles it has to cross before emerging as the de facto standard for personal wireless computing

Bluetooth wireless technology is the marriage of the telecom and computing industries, sans cables.

 

"Bluetooth is set to revolutionize the personal connectivity market by providing freedom from wired connections," says Ramgopal Vallath, country sales manger, 3COM India, New Delhi. His words are an indicator to the worldwide trend in the wireless domain that will emerge in the next two or three years.

The Bluetooth wireless technology, by eliminating the need to deploy additional or proprietary cabling to connect individual devices will take the personal domain from a wired matrix to an unwired one. "The idea that triggered research on this technology in the late 1990s was to eliminate the use of cables altogether, enabling users to connect a wide range of computing and telecommunications devices easily and simply, without the need to buy, carry, or connect cables," points out Pankaj Vaish, head, Telecom Practice, HCL Perot Systems, New Delhi.

One of the primary advantages of Bluetooth technology is that it uses the 2.4Ghz Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) radio frequency spectrum freely available in most countries. This enables seamless communication among various Bluetooth devices, hence creating opportunities for rapid ad hoc connections, and the possibility for automatic, unconscious connections among devices.

As Bluetooth can be used for a variety of purposes, it is also expected to potentially replace multiple cable connections via a single radio link creating the possibility of using mobile data in various applications.

Market Acceptance
Though a lot of work is happening on the vendor side, wherein vendors of mobile devices are embedding Bluetooth into their products, the actual number of Bluetooth-enabled products available is just a trickle. However, this market is expected to explode soon. According to Cahners-Instat, a market research firm, the number of Bluetooth-enabled devices is expected to reach 700 million by 2004.

"Bluetooth is just beginning to see the light of day. Devices implementing Bluetooth have only been introduced into the market in the last five-six months. However, the specifications are continuously being worked upon," explains Vallath of 3COM.

"Currently the efforts are focused on developing new products around the Bluetooth stack. In terms of user acceptance, it is yet to be seen and tested," says Sukant, vice president, DataCom, TENET India Pvt. Ltd, Bangalore.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group, comprising of industry heavyweights like IBM, Nokia, Ericsson and over 2000 other small and big companies, has gone a long way in promoting Bluetooth technology worldwide. Currently, SIG is working with worldwide regulatory bodies to secure approval for the use of Bluetooth wireless technology radio devices throughout the world. Thus it is only when the Bluetooth technology will become broadly available that worldwide compliance will be achieved.

Says Uma, product manager, Motorola India Electronics Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore, "One of the products soon to be expected in the market is the Bluetooth radio which will operate on the globally available 2.45Ghz ISM 'free band', allowing international travelers to use Bluetooth-enabled equipment anywhere in the world."

The initial market estimations by market research pundits peg a figure of over 100 million Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, and several million communication devices, ranging from headsets and portable PCs to desktop computers and notebooks by the year 2002. According to another estimate, by 2004, 75 percent of all mobile devices will support Bluetooth.

Despite all these lofty projections about the future of Bluetooth, there are a lot of factors that influence the acceptance of this technology. To begin with, as Pankaj Vaish from HCL Perot says, "Bluetooth has to receive the overwhelming support of all digital and computer equipment manufacturers to become a basic unit in the production process. Acceptance by those companies outside the SIG will hold back the implementation of Bluetooth in all devices in the future.

For Bluetooth to be successful in the market, there will, in the first place, have to be a need for services capable of Bluetooth applications. Cellular phones and personal PCs will have to be built exclusively for the purpose of demonstrating and testing how this technology will work."

For instance, Ericsson has begun developing devices for the sole purpose of exploring Bluetooth performance and acceptance in the market.

Applications
Thus what can be gathered is that Bluetooth as a technology has to be accepted unequivocally by all vendors and manufacturers, which alone will guarantee compatibility among the array of products of various vendors so important for seamless connectivity.

Bluetooth protocol stacks can be embedded in mobile phones, palmtops, laptops, consumer appliances, medial equipment, automobiles and so on.

Bluetooth wireless technology will virtually eliminate the need for business travelers to purchase or carry numerous proprietary cables by enabling one-to-one and one-to-many connections among PCs, mobile phones and other devices, such as printers and display monitors.

Typical Bluetooth applications are file transfer, data synchronization (schedule, telephone book), data exchange (business cards etc.), voice Transmission (headset and cordless telephony), image transfer, LAN Access (to Ethernet, Token Ring, Firewire, USB...) and Dial-up Networking (Internet/Intranet Bridge) Merits and Demerits There are many merits and demerits with Bluetooth as there are for any upcoming technology that is yet to reach maturity. "The merit that clearly stands out is the ability of the technology to take us into the wireless world with point-to-multi-point connectivity to any device or into any existing application and is not limited to line of sight," points out Pankaj Vaish from HCL Perot Systems.

He continues, "What are seen, as major limitations are its speed and range. But these are the specifications for PAN (Personal Area Network), so one has to bear with them."

The main advantage of Bluetooth is that vendors can build it into their devices. With a low cost to consumers, Bluetooth seems like a logical answer to wireless connectivity. The fast hopping scheme to the free frequency it runs off of, Bluetooth is a win win situation for the user. Bluetooth will revolutionize the way business is done today. If the SIG produces products quick enough and markets this technology in the right way, Bluetooth will exceed the expectations of those who are directly correlated with it.

For Sukant of TENET the cost factor makes Bluetooth an attractive option for the personal wireless networking. "The strength of Bluetooth lies in the minimal hardware dimensions, low priced components and the low power consumption. The diversity in product offerings (mobile phones, PDAs, computers, computer hardware, notebooks etc) from companies in the Bluetooth SIG and their broad support for the technology creates a unique market position," he explains.

While P. Sharadhichandra Babu, director, Adamya Computing Technologies Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore, agrees that Bluetooth is an ideal candidate for economic implementation in the wireless domain, he sees the lack of interoperability among the various standards as a major drawback.

Thus despite the benefits that Bluetooth offers, it is the vendors who will ultimately make or mar the advance of this technology. The vendors will have to arrive on a common platform and make a concerted effort to bring about certain standardization among the various bluetooth-enabled products to ensure ubiquitous implementation and thus widespread use.

Going by the fact that Palm Computing, IBM, Ericsson, Nokia, Kodak and many other companies have already announced that Bluetooth devices will be commercially available in late 2001, in addition to the aggressive promotional efforts put in by SIG members, perhaps, Bluetooth will bring about the much awaited revolution in the wireless domain.

Shubha Murthy and Mahesh Rathod can be reached at netmagindia@vsnl.com

Blurbs
The aim of Bluetooth wireless technology is the marriage of the telecom and computing industries, sans cables. One of the primary advantages of Bluetooth is that it uses the 2.4Ghz ISM radio frequency spectrum freely available in most countries.

SIG is working with worldwide regulatory bodies to secure approval for the use of Bluetooth wireless technology radio devices throughout the world.

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