• United States
Senior Editor

Bluetooth backers take a reality check

Dec 16, 20025 mins
BluetoothCellular NetworksMobile

There was evidence at the Bluetooth Developers Conference last week that the technology’s advocates finally have replaced inflated expectations with realism.

SAN JOSE – There was evidence at the Bluetooth Developers Conference last week that inflated expectations have been replaced by realism.

Bluetooth end user experience still needs tinkering

Instead of talk about Bluetooth taking over the world, discussion focused on interoperability testing and simplified software, integrated chipsets, and technologies that will let Bluetooth and IEEE 802.11 radios work together on the same device.

Announcements and demonstrations covered a range of issues (click for more news from the show ). They included:

Plans by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group to make it easier for users to set up short-range wireless connections.

• Ready-to-use modules dubbed Simply Blue from National Semiconductor designed to simplify the incorporation of Bluetooth radios into different classes of devices.

• A second-generation voice headset from Motorola; smaller, lighter and with better battery life than its predecessor. It also has a lower list price, $150, compared with $200 for the earlier model.

Also, in one of the first enterprise-network-level Bluetooth case studies, staff from United Parcel Service detailed for conference attendees their beta testing of a Bluetooth-802.11b device used by workers to scan packages at UPS sorting hubs.

“From what we’ve seen, in our situation it works very well,” said Guy Hamblen, program manager for UPS’s global network systems.

The scanner, which slips over two fingers, uses Bluetooth to transfer scanned data to the portable computer worn on the worker’s belt. Then an 802.11b wireless LAN adapter carries the data to an access point, where it jumps to the UPS wired network.

“We have very high maintenance and support costs associated with the wired version of this device,” Hamblen said. “We expect significant cost savings with this new system.”

But it won’t happen soon. UPS plans another year of testing around the world.

“We’ve learned to test extensively in many geographic areas, in lots of different conditions, such as high humidity, cold and so on,” Hamblen said.

Enterprise pragmatism seemed to underlie much of the conference’s agenda. Vendors and members of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group talked about returning to the basics of Bluetooth’s original intent: a radio link to replace the cables that interconnect cell phones, headsets, PDAs, notebook PCs and other devices.

Bluetooth was conceived in the mid-1990s as a way to connect devices without using cables. Bluetooth specifies a maximum data rate of 768K bit/sec over a distance of 30 feet.

“At the peak of the hype, some people positioned Bluetooth as more of a network,” said Malcolm Humphrey, product line director for cellular solutions at National Semiconductor. “It doesn’t have a place as a full-blown network. This led to disillusionment.”

The disillusionment was fueled by early Bluetooth products that didn’t work with each other.

“There was a high degree, an unacceptable degree, of interoperability problems,” Humphrey said.

This had a bracing effect on the industry. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group refocused on Version 1.1 of the specification, correcting many of the problems.

And last week, Special Interest Group Executive Director Michael McCamon unveiled the 5-Minute Ready program to make it easier for users to set up products that use the short-range wireless connection. The program includes implementation guides for vendors, reference testing platforms and an interoperability testing facility sponsored by the group.

McCamon, in a keynote presentation, said this interoperability push is critical to widespread acceptance of Bluetooth. “If we don’t do this, everything we’re doing and everything we’ve done won’t matter,” he said.

3Com emphasized interoperability and ease of use in its most recent Bluetooth adapter cards for notebooks. Its latest satisfied customer might be the wife of Brent Nixon, 3Com’s product line manager for Bluetooth. Two weeks ago, the couple, expecting twins, were in their car when Nixon’s wife wanted to check her eBay bid on a double stroller.

“She opened my notebook, which was in ‘sleep’ mode, clicked on the [icon], which dialed in by my General Packet Radio Service phone, and she was browsing eBay,” he said. “Because it’s a [subscriber identity module] card, there’s no username and password to type. It’s easier than a standard laptop dial-up connection.”

Almost equally important,is Bluetooth’s coexistence with enterprise wireless LANs. “The biggest issue I see is what impact Bluetooth will have on 802.11X nets,” says Matt Maupin, product marketing manager for Motorola’s Bluetooth products.

The Special Interest Group has been hammering out a technique for “adaptive frequency hopping,” which will be part of the Version 1.2 specification, due sometime in 2003. With this technique, a Bluetooth radio will be able to detect potential interference and avoid it, Maupin says.

Tracking Bluetooth

Purchases of cell phones with built-in Bluetooth could spur sales of computers with the short-range wireless technology embedded.

(Worldwide Bluetooth-enabled device shipments in millions of units)

2002 2003 2004


Mobile handsets



Cordless headsets 2.8 8.3 23.8


Notebook PCs

1.2 4.1 15.4
Desktop PCs 0.1 1.8 15.4
PC accessories 0.2 1.8 7.4
PDAs 1.0 3.4 10.5



0.32 0.9 2.9
Access points 0.17 0.4 1.4

Stephen Lawson, senior U.S. correspondent with IDG News Service in San Francisco, contributed to this story.

Senior Editor

I cover wireless networking and mobile computing, especially for the enterprise; topics include (and these are specific to wireless/mobile): security, network management, mobile device management, smartphones and tablets, mobile operating systems (iOS, Windows Phone, BlackBerry OS and BlackBerry 10), BYOD (bring your own device), Wi-Fi and wireless LANs (WLANs), mobile carrier services for enterprise/business customers, mobile applications including software development and HTML 5, mobile browsers, etc; primary beat companies are Apple, Microsoft for Windows Phone and tablet/mobile Windows 8, and RIM. Preferred contact mode: email.

More from this author