By eweek  |  Posted 2001-03-05

If handheld and mobile devices are to truly meet the needs of users, the development and support of wireless standards becomes a key issue. One such standard, Bluetooth, promises that users will be able to collect information seamlessly on their Palms and other handheld devices.

"Bluetooth is scarce today. But, at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, it was clear that this is the year youll see Bluetooth-enabled devices end up in the hands of users," says Robert Steele, chief technology officer at Ibrite, a software vendor in Reston, Va. "The next generation of Palms have an expansion slot, and there will be vendors shipping Bluetooth modules for that slot."

Bluetooth was conceived by Ericsson, but developed by a consortium that included Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia and Toshiba. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has since been joined by more than 2,000 companies, including 3Com, Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, Lucent Technologies, Motorola, Qualcomm, Palm, VLSI Technology and Xircom. Bluetooth technology operates in the 2.4-gigahertz range, providing short-range — 10 centimeters to 10 meters — wireless communication between devices like PCs, wireless phones, personal digital assistants and digital cameras.

Market researcher International Data Corp. estimates that by 2004, Bluetooth will be built into 101.8 million devices — such as handsets, notebook computers and smart handhelds — in the U.S. and 448.9 million devices worldwide. Future Bluetooth versions will be used in printers, scanners and thin clients.

"Bluetooth has a lot of promise. We believe it will be great to make presentations using the technology, for example," says Ian Cullimore, president and chief executive of Informal Software. "Today, users are tethered by serial cables, and infrared isnt up to the challenge because of line-of-sight problems. Weve been dying for Bluetooth for a couple of years, but vendors are still struggling to get devices finished."

Industry pundits say a new world will emerge when the Bluetooth standard takes off, but in the meantime, issues of high implementation costs and slow data-transfer speeds must be resolved.

"A backbone infrastructure still needs to be put in place," Cullimore says. "Today, the cards often wont talk to each other. The 802.11 [wireless local area network (LAN)] standard is further along, but there are power consumption issues there."

There are also concerns about the short-range nature of the 2.4-GHz technology and potential interference with devices that support the 802.11 standard. "There are still some questions and compatibility issues with what some people are calling "ad hoc networks" — in which dissimilar devices are working like ad hoc LANs over short distance or in a conference room," Steele says.

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