June 3, 1999 1:20 PM PDT

Bluetooth consortium preps first spec

The dream of ubiquitous wireless communications may be a couple steps closer to reality.

The industry heavyweights that make up the Bluetooth consortium are steadily progressing in their efforts to bring that much-anticipated wireless communication to almost any device that can be outfitted with a radio chip.

Bluetooth was founded last spring by Intel, Nokia, Ericcson, Toshiba, and IBM, with the lofty goal of creating a wireless technology that would enable almost any device to communicate and transfer data. The group appears to be coasting along toward delivering on its first products next year.

For now, after a year of development, the consortium is a few weeks away from publication of the first specification, and one of the first member companies asserts that Bluetooth will soon be a reality.

"Bluetooth does the things you do today, but in a much easier way," said Simon Ellis, marketing manager for Intel's mobile handhelds group. In the group's vision, all mobile devices will be built with a chip for sending and receiving information on a specific radio frequency. The devices will then be able to communicate via nodes installed in corporations, cars, and eventually public areas such as airports and hotels.

Or put more simply: "It's going to replace all the wires," Ellis said. And dubious as that may sound, Bluetooth may have the momentum to do it.

In addition to the founding members, the group has now grown to include 721 companies, including Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, Motorola, Qualcom, BMW, and Casio. These companies have agreed to develop a royalty-free standard. "The objective is to make the technology as cheap as possible--not to have a lot of legal documents. We want to make it as easy as possible to get access to this technology," Ellis said.

These companies will meet next week at the Bluetooth developer's conference in London to discuss training and information for member companies, and show off the first prototype products. Now that the first reference designs are completed, the goal now is interoperability and testing.

Despite competitive differences, Ellis insists that because of the potentially huge payoff, the group has had no trouble working toward its common goal. "It's an interesting mix of companies, but they see the benefit of creating the technology," he said, noting that in Intel's case, the company stands to see a huge payoff from a technology which would drive sales of notebook and handheld computers.

Products built with Bluetooth chips will begin shipping in the middle of next year, he said, although a large installed base will have to be built up before the technology becomes viable. There will be some consumer uses in cell phones, PDAs, and cars, but larger businesses will probably be the first to see the benefit of ubiquitous communication.

These organizations will benefit from employees who can check and send email, and access information within company firewalls from any location.

"Over time there will be Bluetooth nodes out there, and you'll start to be able to do things like high-speed access to the Internet not only from work but in public places like hotels," Ellis said. "Generally, technology like this is justified at the corporate level."

Bluetooth will not add much cost to any of the hardware that the radio chips are built into, he said, and any additional costs will be partially offset by the loss of the cables and wires the technology replaces.

"Over time, technology gets built in, but the price points remain the same," Ellis said. "For the end user, the technology is just there."

 

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