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Bluetooth: prime time now?
Posted on 6-Oct-2003 17:54 by M Freitas | Filed under: Articles

Bluetooth: prime time now?
A Frost & Sullivan report says Bluetooth (What is Bluetooth?) shipments doubled in 2003. With 70 million Bluetooth devices to be shipped by the end of 2003, and predicting a steady growth, is Bluetooth a success?

The report from Frost & Sullivan says that Bluetooth "has come a long way from the simple cable-replacement technology unveiled in 1998. Critics would be hard-pressed to name any other wireless communications technology that has managed to achieve the volumes and diversity of deployment of Bluetooth in just six years."

Over-hyped at the beginning, setting expectations and taking long to deliver, Bluetooth seems to have a well established presence within the consumer market. Users still get confused and mix Bluetooth, a Personal Area Network technology aimed to replace cables connecting peripherals and personal devices (like printers, PDAs, mobile phones and even cars), with other wireless products with different objectives, like wi-fi which is a Local Area Network cable replacement technology.

Granted, the Bluetooth SIG is working with licensees to bring a better Bluetooth experience to end users. A Five Minute initiative is under way, and its objective is to make Bluetooth products easy to use - out of the box and ready to go in less than five minues. We know there's a long way to go when this is applied to the Microsoft Windows world. Just look at all the user queries in our forums about problems on using Bluetooth technology on this platform.

But this seems to be a specific problem. The Microsoft Windows platform is specially fussy in terms of drivers, abstract layers, and we have to agree that each Personal Computer is as individual as its owner - therefore one solution can not fit all. Outside the Windows platform, users of mobile phones, handhelds, headsets, car handsfree technology, printers and other devices enjoy using the Bluetooth technology without fuss.

New uses for the technology are being developed every day. Take for example British Telecom and its Bluephone project. Users of Bluetooth enabled mobile phones (like the Sony Ericsson P800 or the Nokia 3650) will be able to use this technology when at home to connect to a landline and place calls by using a cheaper infrastructure, but without changing the handset.

Or Riato, which allows content distribution, in this case coupons. Users can walk into a store, and receive coupons or information related to personal preferences set on the mobile device. Instead of printed coupons, electronic ones are sent directly to their mobile phone.

The Gartner report Hype Cycle for Mobile and Wireless Networking, 2003 lists Bluetooth Cable Replacement as just leaving the "Trough of Disillusionment" and entering the "Slope of Enlightenment". But the report list another two years before the technology reaches the "Plateau of Productivity".

According to the Frost & Sullivan report, there's a good future for Bluetooth, with market segments such as mobile phones, PC-based applications, and emerging application areas such as industrial and automotive applications offering market potential.

The report also warns: "Although there is also no clear competition to Bluetooth in the personal area networking space, as none have its scope, volume or maturity, only development companies with a sound business plan and clear value proposition will survive."

In-Stat/MDR released a report where it points that education still remains a significant challenge to inform consumers about the benefits and uses of Bluetooth wireless connectivity. However, the high-tech market research firm finds that progress is being made. For mass-market education, it really takes additional exposure from the retail channel and service providers. To date, that exposure has been minimal; however, the service provider percentage was up to 9% this year compared to only 2% last year, showing positive progress. The more consumers learn about Bluetooth, the greater the interest in products with Bluetooth capabilities. Therefore, over time, as more consumers are educated about Bluetooth, their interest in Bluetooth products will increase, thus driving the demand for such products.

In-Stat survey: how much a Bluetooth device should cost?

The In-Stat/MDR consumer survey also found that:
  • While many of the respondents were at least somewhat familiar with Bluetooth, there were less this year who had never heard of the term. Although some progress has been made, education still presents a challenge to educate the US population about Bluetooth, what its benefits are, and how this wireless PAN (Personal Area Network) differs from 802.11b wireless LAN.
  • Most panelists indicated having learned about Bluetooth from technical journals or magazines.
  • There is solid interest in wireless communication between PDAs and PCs, cordlessly connecting to a mobile phone via PDA or laptop, interest in wirelessly printing and accessing the Internet, and hands-free systems, mobile phones and headsets. Additionally, respondents showed a strong interest in cordless mice and keyboards. Although respondents are interested in devices with cordless features, this survey shows a high demand for challenging price points for manufacturers to meet.
  • A significant percentage of survey respondents do not know if they have a Bluetooth feature on their current mobile phone or not, confirming the need for more consumer education and marketing. In addition, if they have the Bluetooth feature on their phone, not all are using it yet.

    In the last year we've seen new technologies that intend to create device networks, but all targeting an area of specific use. Take RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) for example, which can be used to track and identify devices or even products in a warehouse. Or Zigbee which was ractified in May 2003. Its maximum speed is 250kbps, compared to Bluetooth at 720kbps and wi-fi from 11mbps (although we all know real life applications will have different performances).

    Zigbee's niche is data collection (sensors) and control. This includes assembly lines and remote data collectors. The RFID is the most direct competition for ZigBee. Because of its limited bandwidth it's not intended to be a wire replacement like Bluetooth, or a wireless network adapter like wi-fi.

    And where are the 70 million devices shipped this year? Mostly in Europe, but coming to other continents too. Asian countries are particularly fond of wireless technologies. Mobile phones, cars, USB adapters for computers, Windows Mobile based PDAs, Palm OS based PDAs, LAN Access Points, POTS-to-mobile points, mice, keyboards, you name it. This is when we know the technology is doing well: it's present, but not noticed. Taken for granted.

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