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Bluetooth Americas 2003: Day Two
Posted on 11-Dec-2003 13:29 by M Freitas | Filed under: Articles

Bluetooth Americas 2003: Day Two
This is the continuation of our series covering the Bluetooth Americas 2003 event. The first article covered Day One.

The first session in day two of the Bluetooth Americas 2003 was Competition in the short-distance wireless Connectivity landscape, by Joyce Putscher, Senior Analyst, In-Stat/MDR.

During this session she talked about Bluetooth's current position in the market. Interesting to know which Bluetooth applications are of interest to end users. Most regard headset, mouse, keyboard, and laptop/PDA connection to mobile phones as the top uses of Bluetooth.

She also reported that US based operators are lagging behind, still in the earliest stages of market development. Meanwhile European and Asian operators see the technology as an ARPU increase opportunity and service differentiation. However, she stressed that GPRS is still too slow to bring user satisfaction, but EDGE and similar mobile technologies should be a big push for Bluetooth connected devices.

We were then presented with Bluetooth competition, like Zigbee (802.15.4), a low rate wireless PAN standard approved in May/2003, with full specification planned for 2004. It defines network, security, application interface layers and application profiles for interoperability. She expects Zigbee rollouts to start in 2004, but the standard is still one or two quarters behind, depending on standards, specs, zig-fest, etc.

She then talked about UWB (Ultra WideBand), a technology that uses the unlicenced 3.1 – 10.6 GHz spectrum. While narrowband technologies use continuous sine wave to transmit data, UWB uses small pulses. Because of its very high bandwidth for video, the main use for this technology should be audio and video broadcasting in Home Theatres, between plasma TV and A/V receiver for instance. We can expect to see embedded 802.15.3a modules in MP3, digital cameras, laptop PC, handsets. Also, the way it transmits with pulses allows for very precise position location. It can actually compete with ZigBee (802.15.4) for inventory management, security tags, implanted medical devices. The problem for UWB is that there are already two standards (DS-CDMA and MB-OFDM) competing and making market acceptance harder.

Then we had a short break and while walking around the show floor I had a look at Gloo. Talking to Nate Saal, from GlooLabs I found out more about the HomePod, a media device and platform. It can be customised by creating new functionality, changing UI and adding new CODECS when needed (the source code is available to the development community). Very nice device and it should be available in 1Q04. It can play net radios streams too, but if everything else fails it comes with a built in FM radio.

The HomePod wi-fi Gloo-enabled device

We then had a plenary session Implementing Bluetooth into mobile and computing devices.

The first speaker was David Russel, Director of Portable and Wireless Product Marketing, Apple, and Lars Rehder, Wireless Product Manager, Apple.

David talked about things to do when creating Bluetooth products: positioning, simplification, turning owners into users.

Apple’s positioning for Bluetooth is clear: for network connections we have a wired option (Ethernet) and a wireless one (Airport). For peripheral the wired options are USB and firewire, while Bluetooth is the wireless alternative.

The idea for simplification is to have an one-click access to use Bluetooth. Everything should be one click away and also use words people can understand.

Apple is working to make pairing easier on Mac OS X, with wizards to help setup devices. A demo of a one minute Bluetooth setup was shown using a new Bluetooth mouse, from taking it out of the box, turning it on, pairing, and using it. The task was completed in 32 seconds, including the talk during the demo. A second demo with a keyboard was used to show a simplified pairing process.

Coexistence: a great animated slide explained how Bluetooth and wi-fi interfere with each other, and how the new frequency hopping on Bluetooth 1.2 will help avoid this problem.

On the usability front David discussed services: getting services right is the key. For this we had another demo (that was a great session). Using a Nokia 6600 a few image files were transferred to the Mac OS laptop. The Mac OS X can actually recognise the incoming file type and open each file with the appropriate application. For instance, images from a camera mobile phone will be opened with a graphics application or loaded into iPhoto, while a mp3 file can be added to the iTunes library automatically.

Apple Bluetooth positioning (oops, sorry for the focus)

Parag Gupta, Product Manager, Local Area Wireless for palmOne, discussed the Bluetooth position within Palm, driving the mass market adoption, and the way ahead for Palm Powered devices. He explained how Palm is working to focus on the sweet spot for Bluetooth, solution simplification and how to solve immediate challenges first.

palmOne positioning session

Walking around the Toshiba booth I’ve found the Hopbit, a 5GB Bluetooth hard drive. It’s currently only available in Japan, according to sources. It costs around US$300, and it’s mainly used for multimedia transport.

The Toshiba Hopbit 5G Bluetooth hard drive

Then I attended a presentation Bluetooth Headsets and AV Profile, by Impulsesoft. The company announced a couple of Bluetooth Stereo reference designs (iWISH and iWISA) based on the Bluetooth 1.2 specfication. The stereo solutions include hardware designs for both the transmitter (personal jukebox, mobile phones, notebooks, consumer AV devices) and receiver (headphone, wireless speakers) along with a complete suite of software components. Included in the software suite are the upper and lower layer stack, the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), Headset Profile (HS) and Handsfree Profile (HF). The rich profile support provides a universal headphone capable of supporting streaming music as well as connection to a cell phone for hands free operation. According to the speaker, Bluetooth bandwidth is enough for MP3 audio stream by using SBC (Sub Band Codec), a specially designed CODEC for use with Bluetooth. The ideal use for this is a personal jukebox, like a portable MP3.

Bluetooth headsets: at last stereo?

Just before lunch time I met David Shier, from the Bluetooth News website. We had a coffee and talked about the current Bluetooth technology positioning, products and way forward, from a user’s point of view. We also touched the subject of content-based web sites and had a good exchange of information. The “chat” was long enough for us to have coffee, talk, have lunch and more talk. It’s great to meet some of the people that we've only known via e-mail. Keep an eye on Bluetooth News, because David promised some changes on the site.

Back to the sessions. The next panel focused on Consumer Home & Entertainment Application, chaired by Tsuyoshi Okada, Matsushita Electric. The first presentation was Bluetooth Accessories: the missing part of the puzzle by Ariel Moshkovitz, Worldwide Marketing and Business Development Manager, Texas Instruments.

The first “hubs” devices in the Bluetooth market are the mobile phone and PC. He presented the concept of accessories by saying that a device without value by itself is an accessory that adds value to a hub. Accessories include products such as a barcode reader, keyboard, mouse, or headset. His reasoning is that Bluetooth will succeed if the market absorbs more “hubs” instead of “accessories”. Having more “hubs” will drive the consumer to buy more “accessories”. And he firmly believes that the headset is the perfect accessory to drive the market. It seems fair enough…

During the presentation we were also introduced to the Texas Intruments BRF6150, TI’s second generation of single chip Bluetooth implementation, compatible with 1.2 spec. This chip gives seamless integration with TI’s OMAP chipset, and integration with GSM, GPRS and other technologies. It’s clearly aiming at the mobile handset and handheld market.

After his presentation someone asked about wi-fi in mobile phones. Ariel’s thoughts were that wi-fi will be available in smartphones and PDAs, but no reason for it in standard mobile handsets. He also talked about the Bluetooth and wi-fi integrated chipset from TI, like the ones used in the new HP iPAQ 4150 and 4350 series.

Bluetooth Accessories

The next session in this panel was Bluetooth Cordless Telephony: a latent opportunity, presented by Steve Pearce, Wireless Enabled Products Manager, Mezoe (Cambridge Consultants). He examined and presented reasons why the Cordless Telephony Profile is not well explored. Mezoe is a spin off of Cambridge Consutants, like Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR). Mezoe makes a protocol stack called Bluestack.

The ideal mobile device functionality would allow users to connect to a mobile cellular network, or to a landline via the Cordless Telephony Profile or to another Bluetooth enabled mobile device directly for a walkie-talkie like conversation. He even cited British Telecom’s Bluephone device directly, with trials in Feb/04 and launch by mid-2004.

Apparently Bluetooth BOM has a cost advantage (US$18) when compared to DECT (Digital Ehnanced Cordless Telephony) devices (US$25) and Digital Spread Spectrum (US$30).

Some discussion on Bluephone

The last session I attended was a case study: Personal Mobile Gateway. The speaker was Edgar Auslander, Senior Vice President Marketing, IXI Mobile. He pointed out that one of the market problems is that current mobile devices are not optimised to meet end-user needs. The main reasons are:

  • e-mail or messaging is cumbersome on phones
  • telephony is cumbersome on PDAs
  • features and functions are too complicated to use
  • all-in-one mobile phones are expensive

    He classified the mobile phones in three categories:

  • all-in-one mobile phones, like the Sony Ericsson P900
  • some-in-one mobile phones, like the Nokia 3650 for camera and the Nokia N-Gage for gaming.
  • classic phones, good for voice calls, but limited wireless experience

    He proposes a PMG phone (Samsung PMG) and a series of PMG Companion Devices, such as camera, pen, watch, messenger device. These are “peripherals” to the PMG phone and they communicate to the wireless network through the PMG hub, via Bluetooth.

    I like this idea, but I personally like the all-in-one approach, if I could find a strong messenger device. The all-in-one implementation is hard because you can’t get a good and a good messenger application and

    IXI is currently supplying the IXI-Connect to Samsung to create a PMG phone, and the IXI-Sleek for Companion Devices. There’s a web site dedicated to this concept. The PMG Magazine covers this market niche.

    The Samsung PMG phone

    Other companies are reportedly working on other sleek devices. Seiko is working on a PMG watch. It will alert the user to incoming calls by ringing and showing the Caller ID. Personalisation is available though ring tones, and consumers can change the watch face by downloading new skins. All connection to the internet is through the hub, the PMG phone.

    Sanyo took this concept a step further and designed a entire family of PMG products called Alviss. They are all credit card size.

    The Sanyo Alviss family of PMG products

    The idea behind the PMG concept is that the retailer can sell separates pieces and updates, instead of the user having to buy a mobile phone that will soon be outdated. End users can benefit from this because they can buy different devices when the budget allows or the needs change.

    A PMG Messenger concept

    I was satisfied with the sessions, although I had to choose between two tracks. I decided to go to the marketing track because of discussions on consumer usage of Bluetooth. Some of the technical discussions in the other track were interesting, but I just couldn't attend both.

    Overall I would have welcomed more consumer devices in the exhibition. I understand that there will be probably more present in events like CES or CeBIT. There was certainly lots of technical stuff, developers kits, SDKs available, and some analysis tools too.

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