Bluetooth, the short-range wireless technology that connects devices, may finally be ready for prime time with the release next week of the Toshiba Bluetooth PC Card.
Toshiba Corp. plans to ship the first Bluetooth PC Card on Monday from its ShopToshiba Web site. The US$199 card can be used with notebook PCs with a Type II PC Card slot, and a minimum configuration of a 133-MHz Pentium processor, 64MB of memory, and either Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition or Windows Millennium Edition.
Bluetooth is a low-cost wireless radio transmission specification for creating personal networks of up to eight devices at a distance of 10 to 100 feet. The long-awaited technology is designed to replace cables and link notebooks, printers, mobile phones, handheld devices, and even car systems at data rates up to 1 megabit per second. Bluetooth products are trickling out.
The Toshiba Bluetooth PC Card may have limited appeal until more Bluetooth devices hit the market, but it at least shows that Bluetooth is now more than just talk.
The Bluetooth Connection
Toshiba helped develop the specification as part of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, says Warren Allen, senior product planner of wireless products at Toshiba America. "We're already shipping a Bluetooth card in Japan."
For its Bluetooth PC Card, Toshiba licensed the technology from Motorola, which also licenses Bluetooth to IBM.
"By midyear 2001, we'll offer built-in Bluetooth and 802.11b with an antenna array in the display lid of our notebooks," Allen says. Toshiba also plans to release an 802.11b card for wireless LANs. The 802.11b wireless specification is for networking over larger areas and is faster than Bluetooth.
Toshiba's Bluetooth PC Card comes with a Bluetooth software suite as well as SPANworks productivity and collaboration software. SPANworks lets you control device authentication, and even share files or conduct wireless chat. Device authentication is the way Bluetooth users can deny or accept communication with other Bluetooth devices. The card will automatically identify any Bluetooth device within range, Allen says.
Early Devices Lonely
Of course, Bluetooth communications are limited until more Bluetooth-enabled devices hit the market. Until these arrive, the most valuable use of the technology will probably be sharing files between two notebooks using Bluetooth PC Cards.
"Through SPANworks or Windows Explorer, you can send a compressed version of a presentation so that, as the presenter pages through, the pages flip on the other connected machines," Allen says. "You can also send vCards (a form of electronic business card from Versit) from [Microsoft] Outlook."
Toshiba successfully demonstrated wireless chat between two notebooks via Bluetooth cards. Power drainage, a key factor in any kind of mobile computing, is fairly minimal with the Bluetooth PC Card, Allen says.
"It uses about 70 milliamps at 2.7 watts," he says. "That's less than an internal modem card, which uses about 200 milliamps."
Vendors Promise Support
Bluetooth will become more useful as devices proliferate. Unlike infrared, Bluetooth lets you use a phone as a wireless modem for your laptop without taking the phone out of a bag. Or you could use a printer without cables and network access.
"Bluetooth would be great on a plane where you could wirelessly tap into the plane's already existent Internet connection," Allen says. "Boeing has demonstrated Bluetooth connectivity is safe on planes, but airlines will likely wait for Bluetooth to become successful among consumers before they deploy it."