Bluetooth Working on Kinks

Technology is making slow progress but is dogged by political issues that prevent collaboration.

Bluetooth continues to struggle with political issues that are hampering interoperability not only with more mature wireless technologies but also with itself.

The industry is making slow progress on 802.15.2, a protocol that ensures interoperability between Bluetooth and the wireless LAN protocol 802.11b. Vendors, meanwhile, said they hope new products can address those issues and help advance Bluetooth.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Bluetooth Special Interest Group each have a group of engineers working on the coexistence issue. However, IEEE members have been reluctant to join the SIG, a requirement for sharing information. As a result, the groups have yet to combine efforts to create an official standard.

The 802.15.2 standard is expected to include two specifications—one for coexistence among devices that are more than half a meter apart, which uses adaptive frequency hopping technology, and one for devices at very close range, which will use technology from Mobilian Corp. and Symbol Technologies Inc.

"Right now, the two cant really compare notes," said Jim Lansford, vice president of business development at Mobilian, in Hillsboro, Ore., and chairman of the IEEE coexistence study group. "Its been very difficult to share documents. Theres concern because when companies join [the SIG], they give up rights to intellectual property."

Announcements from individual companies within the Bluetooth SIG should help the interoperability cause. Last week at the Bluetooth Developers Conference in San Francisco, Microsoft Corp.—after some hedging over the past several months—announced support for Bluetooth in the Windows XP operating system by the middle of next year.

On the cell phone side, Silicon Wave Inc. and Toshiba America Inc. announced that they are separately developing modules for cell phones that will support both Bluetooth and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications).

Motorola Corp.s Semiconductor Products Sector announced a Bluetooth Platform, one of the first to utilize adaptive frequency hopping, which focuses on interoperability with 802.11b. Still, Bluetooth faces interoperability issues with itself, especially in complicated scenarios such as "piconets," or small networks of up to eight Bluetooth devices.

"The biggest issue with Bluetooth right now is that they do interoperable testing by testing with the spec but not with other products, which isnt good enough," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif.

Potential customers said that the complicated nature of the Bluetooth specification has always slowed it down.

"Bluetooth is so complicated," said Fran Rabuck, practice leader for mobile computing at Alliance Consulting, in Philadelphia, and an eWeek Corporate Partner. "Its not just a simple transport like 802.11b. It has multiple layers. So it has potential for so many things, but thats what has slowed it down, too. It should be designed to replace a cable, not the whole ... operating system."

Additional reporting by Jason Brooks in San Francisco.