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Special Feature: Bluetooth adoption is years away

Wireless technology could take a decade before it hits the mainstream

Despite the hype surrounding Bluetooth, mass adoption of this technology for wireless communications is still years away, according to industry experts speaking at the Bluetooth Congress in Amsterdam.

The rollout of Bluetooth has been much slower than originally predicted, with experts now estimating it will be eight years before the technology is as commonly used as mobile phones are today.

"We did overheat it a lot," said Mike McCamon, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interests Group speaking at the congress. "If you step back, it does take about a decade from the very first user product to mainstream use. I think we are in the second year of Bluetooth adoption."

But Simon Gawne, vice president and co-founder of wireless networking firm Red-M, takes a more positive view.

"[Bluetooth] is already a feature on premium and business phones. We expect that over the coming year it will increasingly be fitted on lower-end phones. [But we should realise] that infrared is still not fitted on low-end consumer phones even today."

Gawne blames the delays on the standard changes, from version 1.0 to 1.1, which occurred throughout 2000 and 2001, setting back rollout by as much as a year.

"With a locked down standard, products have been coming on to the market since mid 2001," said Gawne. "Bluetooth volumes are now ramping, with about 10 million chips deployed in 2001."

Analysts at research firm Gartner Dataquest predict that figure will more than triple this year, reaching about 158 million by 2003.

Vendors predicted that Bluetooth would be everywhere by now, but the number of devices with Bluetooth remains limited and early adopters are the only ones using the technology.

"This is still very early days for Bluetooth and I think we've only just started to see the first applications for the technology. Second generation silicon is starting to come to market and with it the applications are starting to get more interesting," said Gawne.

Bluetooth was invented in 1994 as a cable replacement technology. It offers data transfer rates of about 400Kbps (kilobits per second) and operates in the 2.4GHz frequency band, the same as many mobile phones and 802.11b wireless LAN technology.

One technology Red-M is currently developing is Bluetooth Voice, designed to enable organisations to use the technology as an in-building cordless network which cuts down on the cost of mobile voice calls.

Other manufacturers, including Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola, are focusing their energies on Bluetooth-related devices because the price of the Bluetooth chip has dropped dramatically over the last year.

But simply having Bluetooth in a phone does not mean it will be used. Sony Ericsson's T68i handset, for example, is popular across Europe not because it incorporates Bluetooth, but because of its colour screen.

It is the lack of applications supporting the technology that is the problem, according to Kyle Martin director of US-based Silicon Wave.

"When Microsoft releases Windows with Bluetooth support, it will open the floodgates to a host of Bluetooth applications," said Martin.

Microsoft released Bluetooth software for development last month and has recently shown off its Bluetooth-enabled mouse and keyboard. Bluetooth support for XP is planned for later this year, so we will have to see if Martin's predictions come true.


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