January 21, 2000 4:50 AM PST

Bluetooth must chew through pricing, tech constraints

Bluetooth, the much-hyped wireless technology developed to do away with awkward cables and cumbersome wires, must overcome serious obstacles before it can become widely used, according to a new study.

Despite the avowed support from the industry heavyweights that make up the Bluetooth Consortium, which includes companies like Intel, Toshiba, Ericcson, IBM and Nokia, technology and pricing constraints may impede the widespread adoption of the technology, according to the Wireless 2000 market study from Micrologic Research. Microsoft, Lucent and Motorola are also members of the group.

As mobile technology--specifically notebook computers, personal digital assistants and cell phones--has become predominant even among previous non-PC users, companies have endeavored to simplify connectivity and resolve the problem of connecting multiple wires and cables which rarely, if ever, easily work together.

The industry has embraced Bluetooth as the most likely candidate to relieve that irritation. But until it comes down in price and chip size, it won't truly be feasible to work Bluetooth into the small devices it is designed to improve, according to Jack Quinn of Micrologic.

"I think everyone realizes that it's the next generation of (Bluetooth) chips that will start to sell," he said. "If you're going to put them in cell phones, it has to be small, cheap, compact and powerful, and all of that on one chip. It's not easy to do."

Bluetooth devices and notebook computers will begin shipping this year, but Bluetooth-enabled devices are not likely to become widely used until 2002, he predicted. In the next two years, the technology will improve sufficiently to bring the chip size and cost down, according to the survey.

"Right now, all the proposed Bluetooth chips have all been two-chip solutions," he explained. But because the devices the technology is designed to improve are so small and cost sensitive, the chip must also be small and inexpensive, he said. "It has to be reduced to a single chip, and it has to be sold for under $10."

In addition, the companies involved must begin interoperability testing to make sure that all the products actually work together. In other words, it is time to make sure that Bluetooth does what it says it does. The consortium has formed a working group toward that end, but Quinn says he isn't aware that any testing has actually taken place yet.

"Before the market can take off, they have to build equipment and prove that it can operate together," he said.

Other market researchers remain optimistic: Cahners In-Stat group says that by 2005, there will be more than 670 million Bluetooth-enabled devices.


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