Wireless at Comdex an Evolution

Comdex/Fall 2000 showgoers will see evolutionary rather than revolutionary wireless and handheld products this week in Las Vegas, according to analysts and vendors.

Though Bluetooth personal-area networking technology - designed to use the airwaves to hook printers to laptops, for example - had the buzz a year ago with products expected by the end of this year, vendors will still be exhibiting devices you can only look at rather than buy.

"Bluetooth has a way to go, so you'll still be seeing a lot of prototypes at Comdex, and you'll be seeing some interesting chip technology," said Tim Scannell, a Quincy, Mass.-based analyst at Mobile Insights Inc.

Arvind Sabaharwal, director of telecommunications and networks at General Motors Corp. in Detroit, agreed, saying he doesn't anticipate seeing Bluetooth products - which GM plans to use to connect devices in its assembly plants - for another 18 months.

In the handheld device arena, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm Inc. plans to unveil new wireless developments at Comdex, as well as provide a sneak peek at a new Palm portal, according to a company spokeswoman.

Compaq Computer Co., which has developed its iPaq line of handhelds based on Palm's rival, the Pocket PC platform from Microsoft, plans to introduce its handheld wireless strategy at the show, a spokeswoman said.

Scannell said he doesn't expect to see "anything significant from Palm" at Comdex, but he added that he does expect Microsoft and its Pocket PC partners to use the show to "move aggressively" against Palm in the marketplace.

Wireless LANs operating on the widely adopted 802.11B standard have reached a level of maturity not seen in other wireless products at Comdex. Elliott Hamilton, an analyst at Strategis Group in Washington, said potential buyers will see reduced prices.

"Costs are definitely getting cheaper for wireless LANs," Hamilton said. "We're seeing a lot of [Internet service providers] and resellers entering the market."

Though mature and backed by industry heavyweights, including Lucent Technologies Inc. in Murray Hill, N.J., and Cisco Systems Inc. in San Jose, the 802.11b standard faces a battle for the 2.4-GHz frequency band from the standard backed by the HomeRF Working Group, an equally high-powered collection of companies that includes Intel Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif., Motorola Inc. in Schaumberg, Ill., and Compaq.

This year's Comdex will be the first, highly visible skirmish between the two camps, according to Scannell. Because the two groups advocate the use of different technologies to spread signals across the spectrum, Scannell said both plan to use Comdex to launch "strong campaigns" for their potentially conflicting technologies.

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