Although it was created by a phone maker and aimed at the cellular phone industry, the short-range wireless protocol called Bluetooth is now finding more of a home in devices for the enterprise.
While the shift from phone to peripheral device has vexed the big cell phone makers, which happen to be the largest backers of the technology, it could bode well for enterprise users eyeing Bluetooth for commercial applications.
Evidence of the new path for the technology could be seen at the Bluetooth Congress here last week with news that ranged from new devices to networking advancements and from software development kits to expanded operating system support.
Palm Inc., which has an early lead in Bluetooth development, demonstrated a Bluetooth-enabled SD (secure digital) card for the companys m500 handheld computer. Co-designed with Toshiba America Inc., the card will be available by December and sell for less than $150, according to officials of the Santa Clara, Calif., company. Meanwhile, British Bluetooth upstart Red-M, of Wexham Springs, England, has announced plans to ship its own SD sled for Palm devices as soon as next month.
These add-on cards enable Palms to communicate wirelessly at ranges of 10 to 30 feet with other devices that support Bluetooth, such as printers, phones and other Palm devices.
Currently, not much is available in the way of consumer Bluetooth products, other than several PC Cards and Universal Serial Bus dongles, a couple of access points, and one phone.
But analysts are hopeful. Cahners In-Stat Group predicts that 955 million Bluetooth gadgets will have hit the market by 2005. Bluetooth analyses tend to change from year to year, though, as each version of the Bluetooth specification has been released later than originally planned.
Though such delays have kept Bluetooth from catching on in the enterprise, not all are fazed.
"Even if nobody else released a Bluetooth product, it would still be useful to Palm," said Stephen McDonnell, business development manager for the Palm Consumer Markets Group, in Santa Clara.
For enterprise purposes, Bluetooth-enabled Palm devices can share information with one another in an ad hoc wireless network known under the Bluetooth spec as a piconet. In a piconet, up to eight Bluetooth devices can connect. While the current Bluetooth specification does not include a profile for PAN (personal area networking), the PAN profile is expected this year.
Potential customers are intrigued by piconet, but not the eight-device rule. "The piconet idea has merit but really needs to break the eight-pack mentality," said Fran Rabuck, practice leader for mobile and wireless at Alliance Consulting Group Associates Inc., in Philadelphia, and an eWeek Corporate Partner.
Nevertheless, Bluetooth networking pushes on. SynchroPoint Wireless Inc. is developing peer-to-peer collaboration software for the Palm, code-named Thorer Project. The software, from the Vancouver, British Columbia, company, will enable several users to connect with team members to access shared information.
In addition to the networking paths being blazed, support for Bluetooth on the operating system continues to grow. Palm plans to offer Bluetooth support for Palm OS by years end. It offers a developer tool kit to make existing applications Bluetooth-compatible.
Microsoft Corp., for its part, has Bluetooth handheld plans, as well. Though the Redmond, Wash., company decided not to provide native support in Windows XP, sources said Microsoft will add native Bluetooth support to the next version of Windows CE, which is due by years end. Developers are also supporting CE. Extended Systems Inc., of Boise, Idaho, has plans for a CE developers tool kit. Motorola Corp. will offer a Bluetooth CompactFlash card for the Compaq iPaq by the end of the year, as will upstart Brain Boxes Ltd., in Liverpool, England, whose card was on display here.