The Death of Bluetooth: Intel Moves to Ultrawideband

 
 
By Rob Enderle  |  Posted 2004-02-19
 
 
 
At the Intel Developer Forum on Wednesday Intel announced the company was giving up on the deadlocked Ultrawideband IEEE task group and going it alone with a derivative offering they are calling Wireless USB. This initiative, for them, does everything that Bluetooth does and, effectively means that for PCs Bluetooth is all but dead.

Intels history with Bluetooth, up until now, was solid. It was one of the major backers but the technology took years longer then expected to come to market. Its really never been accepted as a PC standard. Even Microsoft was slow to adopt it due to concerns about the standard. The companys Bluetooth keyboard and mouse were a disaster.

Bluetooth, which has been expanding in the cell phone market strongly, has been appearing on an increasing number of headsets, aftermarket automotive solutions, and recently became a dealer installed cradle option for some cars. Unfortunately, for the PC market, it may have simply taken too long to come to market. And now, based on this new product direction from Intel, its all but dead.

Ultrawideband provides a substantial performance benefit over Bluetooth, and approaches the speeds of USB 2.0 and 1394. These faster connections are increasingly required by peripherals like the Apple iPod, digital cameras, and removable hard drives. This throughput, or the lack of it, is what apparently ended the Intel/Bluetooth honeymoon.

Click here to read more about ultrawideband news from IDF.

Another problem with Bluetooth is how difficult it is to use. Consumers often found it impossible to get two Bluetooth devices to talk to each other.

Intels specification addresses the performance and usability shortcomings of Bluetooth. Intel expects ultrawideband will eliminate virtually all of the wires on the desktop.

Part of this design allows the solutions to look like USB 2.0 ports to the system. This commonality to an existing, accepted, specification creates a faster time to market for the related devices. By using the USB 2.0 specification Intel can also sidestep many of the software compatibility issues that other emerging connectivity solutions--like Bluetooth--experienced.

Read more here about Intels new spec and its partner agreements.

Unfortunately Intel had to step away from the IEEE Ultrawideband working group to do this. I think this will be an increasing trend.

Microsoft and Intel are becoming increasingly frustrated with a number of standards-setting working groups that never seem to get anything done. When you get competitors to the table in these types of groups, they tend to fight rather than cooperate. As reported in November, the ultrawideband standards group remains deadlocked, with no hope in sight. Check out eWEEK.coms Wireless Topic Center at http://wireless.eweek.com for the latest news, views and analysis on wireless communication.

In the end, consumers could care less how difficult it is to get people to agree, they just want something that works. Going it alone was the right move for Intel to make.

If these working groups cant their act together, even more of the will be abandoned by their backers. No matter how well intended, you cant make money unless you can actually build and sell a product.

Another problem—we dont have wireless power yet. Some of these devices pull power off of a USB cable, which is easier to carry than the power brick. But until someone figures out how to do broadcast power, a truly wireless solution may never be possible. Powering them from a tether is ironic, considering that these devices are called "wireless."

Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology.

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