Bluetooth 1.0 experiences growing pains

The initial Bluetooth specification is out, and chipmakers such as Motorola and Intel are shipping silicon for the wireless solution. But Bluetooth-enabled devices are not appearing as quickly as many industry observers believed they would.

As with most fledgling technologies, the high introductory price point of Bluetooth has caused some equipment manufacturers, such as Santa Clara, California-based Palm Computing, to wait until the cost of the technology goes down.

"As soon as Bluetooth is practical -- around the $10 mark -- we'll embed it in our systems," but until then Palm will pursue attachable Bluetooth adapters for early adopters, said Michael Mace, chief competitive officer at Palm.

Other manufacturers, such as Palm neighbour Fujitsu, have hinted that Bluetooth's present power requirements make the technology unsuitable for its mobile offerings and will not introduce any Bluetooth-enabled devices until early 2001, according to a source within Fujitsu.

"Maybe some of the expectations (about Bluetooth) were created in advance of the reality, but the power and price issues work on typical industry curves and will settle in with time," said Gary Silcott, a marketing communications manager at Austin, Texas-based Motorola.

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group, agrees that power is less of a problem for Bluetooth than a trio of other issues.

"First, there is the conflict between 802.11 and Bluetooth. (Wireless LAN solution) 802.11 tends to step on Bluetooth's transmission," Enderle explained. "Second, France has outlawed Bluetooth because it broadcasts over a defence band. And third, the FAA doesn't want anything wandering into airline broadcasts, and there's a question as to whether Bluetooth (which is designed to constantly seek other signals) ever really turns off."

Hewlett-Packard, which has already begun leaving room in its OmniBook laptop offerings for an embedded Bluetooth antenna, will offer PCI-based Bluetooth products beginning later this year. The Californian company wants to make sure that interoperability issues surrounding 802.11 and Bluetooth are resolved before embedding the device in its laptops, according to Anthony McMahon, the marketing manager for Hewlett-Packard's OmniBook notebook PCs.

In its own tests of Bluetooth and 802.11, IBM, which offers both wireless solutions, reported "very little degradation" of signal when the two solutions are operating near each other, according to Peter Lee, a senior engineer at the New York-based company. However, IBM is concentrating on USB-based Bluetooth devices, rather than embedding the chip inside its ThinkPads, "for better reception", Lee said.

Motorola's Silcott said the Bluetooth 2.0 specification, due in a year, is addressing the 802.11 interoperability issue. He also dismissed the French ban, saying similar issues were resolved in Japan. "And Bluetooth should shut off," Silcott added.

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