Holding the keys to a futuristic world in which large and small devices are seamlessly connected through the air, the much-anticipated Bluetooth specification is beginning to make waves in the market. Along with it arrives the potential for opening up a wide range of e-business applications and opportunities.
Bluetooth technology uses short-range radio frequency to transmit voice and data at a range of 30 feet. Enabling what is called a "personal-area network," Bluetooth can connect to the Internet as well as link mobile phones, PCs, and other devices.
Vendors leading the Bluetooth charge, including heavyweights L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co., Nokia Corp., IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp., 3Com Corp., and others, are hard at work developing Bluetooth-enabled components, applications, and products. The number of Bluetooth-capable products is expected to surge in future years, with as many as 1.4 billion Bluetooth-enabled devices expected in the market by 2005, according to Scottsdale, Ariz.-based market researchers Cahners In-Stat Group.
The first wave of Bluetooth modules and chip sets are beginning to hit the market now, and early next year, Bluetooth products such as mobile phone handsets and headsets will arrive as well. Later in 2001, a slew of Bluetooth-juiced PCs, PDAs, and applications are expected.
Warren Wilson, a Bellevue, Wash.-based analyst at Summit Strategies Inc., said Bluetooth's ability to link a variety of devices opens new doors for business applications.
"If I am making a sales call and a customer needs information, I can wirelessly link to the corporate intranet and direct a spec sheet to a customer's printer or fax. That is powerful in terms of maintaining momentum in a purchase or sale, rather than sending necessary information and documents later," said Joyce Putscher, director of consumer and converging markets and technologies at Cahners In-Stat. She highlighted the ability of Bluetooth to push location-based services to mobile users.
"Bluetooth is another way to offer premises-based information specific to where you are at the moment," Putscher said. "If you are in a large store and turn on your PDA, a Bluetooth connection could give you a specific offer based on your location in the store."
At the Bluetooth Developer's Conference in San Jose, Calif., earlier this month, vendors and developers showcased products and uses for Bluetooth connectivity.
San Diego-based Widcomm Inc., for example, announced several Bluetooth products, including software and developer's kits. Widcomm's Bluetooth Protocol Software Suite for Embedded Systems is designed to let manufacturers add Bluetooth functionality to headsets, digital cameras, and other products. The company also announced a software suite for Windows, which lets PC hardware manufacturers add Bluetooth to the Windows desktop and notebook PCs.
Widcomm also rolled out two developer kits for Bluetooth-based software applications: the Bluetooth Developer's Kit for Windows and BlueConnect Developer's Kit for the Handspring Inc.'s Visor.
According to Ron Wong, director of marketing at Widcomm, software development kits and the related technical support is critical to furthering Bluetooth.
"The biggest thing needed is support for developers to get applications to market," Wang said. "Practical applications are what will drive Bluetooth."
Future uses for Bluetooth will change business transactions, Wang added.
"Bluetooth has a great play in e-business," he said. "Having Bluetooth in a public space, like a shopping mall or in a gas station, will let [people] drive up and use a PDA or phone to validate the funds for paying for items."
Coupled with WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), Bluetooth provides more possibilities for tapping into Internet-based services and content. WAP browsers are becoming standard issue on mobile phones and handheld devices.
Also at the show, Ericsson announced an embedded WAP-over-Bluetooth server. Designed to be used in an implemented Bluetooth environment, the embedded WAP server lets device manufacturers add Bluetooth and WAP connectivity to devices such as TVs, set-top boxes, and VCRs. Stockholm, Sweden-based Ericsson recently formed a separate organization devoted to developing Bluetooth devices and systems.
Intel, meanwhile, unveiled its Personal Wireless USB Adapter, which allows desktop or notebook computers to connect devices via Bluetooth. The adapter enables plug-and-play Bluetooth functionality, letting users share files and synchronize information with other PCs or receive e-mail on a PC via a mobile phone, for example.It also features an internal omnidirectional antenna and integrated power, officials at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel said.