The long-awaited advent of wireless computing may just be around the corner, with Toshiba claiming gold for being first past the post in the race to release a Bluetooth PC Card solution.
Bluetooth represents a radio frequency network that allows information to be transferred at 1Mbps. Toshiba's new card works in conjunction with SPANworks software and promises to allow users to share presentations, send instant messages and transfer documents instantly at a distance of up to 30 metres.
The card, which carries a price tag of $390, is available immediately and comes with a one-year warranty.
"At the moment, I see mobile computing as islands of information tethered by wires," said Laurie White, Toshiba's product marketing manager.
The company is forecasting the Bluetooth PC Card will be used to connect and synchronise portable computers, printers, digital mobile phones, PDAs, digital cameras, network access points and other mobile devices to each other or to the Internet. According to the vendor, many of these products will be available by the first quarter of next year. Ericsson's first Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone - the 520 - will be available in Australia by the end of this year and the company has also announced the T38. Nokia will also be releasing phones early next year.
The card and software allows the creation of a Bluetooth Neighbourhood in the same way Network Neighbourhood works on a networked PC with a device discovery function, to link Bluetooth devices together. Toshiba has been working with the US Army on security solutions which can be set up by an administrator to deal with security issues such as data privacy and unsolicited messages and ambush marketing. It all adds up to opportunities for the company's value-add partners, which can help set up the network, according to White.
"There are opportunities for our resellers to offer services and come in with a value add or personally set up the environment." White calls it the "ad hoc personal network".
At this stage, bandwidth issues limit the number of connected devices to around eight. "More can interact together with no problem, but when you start to set up services it would become congested," White said.
Toshiba envisions Bluetooth working in conjunction with Wireless LAN technology. "We see Bluetooth as fulfilling a different purpose to wireless LAN. Bluetooth is aimed at connecting handheld devices such as phones and PDAs. It is slower than Wireless LANs but less draining on power resources and can be operated anywhere."
Wireless LAN also requires specialised hubs, whereas Bluetooth is a more mobile technology that operates at short ranges, he said.
Toshiba also previewed its new Satellite Pro notebook, heralded by the company as a "communications vehicle". The notebook will integrate Bluetooth and wireless LAN technologies and incorporate Ethernet and a modem.
Business has been good in the mobile computing market, according to Toshiba general manager Bruce Lakin.
"Like most vendors, we began this year with a fair degree of uncertainty," he said. "But the market is buoyant. We have more than 30 per cent market share to date with market growth of 22-24 per cent year-on-year."
The Bluetooth release is an extension of the company's motto - anywhere, anytime, always connected. "www now also stands for the wonderful world of wireless Internet computing," Lakin joked.
In the interests of driving wireless technology further, Toshiba has participated in the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), made up of representatives from nine major IT companies including 3Com, IBM, Intel, Lucent and more than 2000 Adopter Associated member companies.
"We didn't want to repeat the infra red scenario," White said, referring to the lack of supporting software and capability. "We wanted to make it usable from day one."