BlueTooth Heads to the Highways

Will BlueTooth become the ultimate technology for automotive telematics?

The Bluetooth industry is hoping to find opportunity in failure.

Supporters of the short-range wireless technology have been searching for a sweet spot since Ericsson AB introduced it more than three years ago as a way for cell phones to communicate with headsets, PDAs, laptops and other nearby devices.

Since then, industry players have been pitching the technology for applications ranging from billboards to wireless LANs, but it has been slow to mature and even slower to be adopted.

When Ford Motor Co. pulled out of Wingcast LLC, its joint venture with Qualcomm Inc. to produce telematics services in vehicles, the automaker said it was still looking at Bluetooth. Wingcast was based on cell phone technology.

And at the Bluetooth Congress in Amsterdam this week, several Bluetooth components manufacturers will be making the case for Bluetooth as the ultimate technology for automotive telematics.

For starters, a telematics executive from Chrysler USA will deliver a keynote speech that champions Bluetooth in the car. Chrysler plans to include Bluetooth support in the consoles of some of its 2003 models.

"There was so much early hype about telematics that when it didnt happen immediately people said it was going down the gutter," said Ken Noblitt, business development director at Cambridge Silicon Radio Inc. in Richardson, Texas. "Telematics is not slowing down. Thats a load of bull."

CSR at the Bluetooth Congress will be discussing partnerships with several telematics companies that are planning Bluetooth-enabled applications for a handful of major auto manufacturers, officials said.

Initial applications will focus on hands-free communication between a console in the car and devices such as cell phones that drivers are likely to carry with them. More complex applications will be available when the industry comes up with Bluetooth solutions that can reside in a cars engine, but current Bluetooth radios cant survive the heat. CSR officials said that auto companies other than Chrysler will announce Bluetooth plans by fall.

Bluetooth veteran Extended Systems Inc. is teaming up with Visteon Corp. and BMW to make the case for Bluetooth in the car. The companies at the show will demonstrate a way to control various devices and car console functions via a Bluetooth-powered voice connection.

Widcomm Inc. will demonstrate what the San Diego, Calif., company calls "CD Quality" audio, an application also aimed at the telematics as well as the entertainment industry, officials said.

The auto industry is far from universally embracing Bluetooth, however. For one thing, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group has yet to ratify a standard profile specifically for hands-free communications.

There is also the money issue that has been dogging Bluetooth from its inception. A few radio companies have created single-chip solutions that cost about $5 in volumes of millions, but it has taken nearly four years to lower the price of Bluetooth radios.

Sources at Toyota Motor Co. said that the company is exploring Bluetooth, but is far from committing because prices havent dropped as quickly as anticipated.

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