Bluetooth starts to bite

26 Oct 2002

For a while it looked like it would never take off, but 2002 was the year that Bluetooth finally began to arrive in mobile devices. Much was made of it when the standard was initially announced a couple of years ago. While it was first mooted as a wireless, cable-replacement technology, we were also promised a lot more from Bluetooth.

We heard of Bluetooth payments and Bluetooth hotel check-ins to name a few. While none of these examples has yet to materialise on these shores, Bluetooth in its original incarnation has.

For the uninitiated, it is a technology that enables wireless communication between devices via short wave radio. Of course, wireless communication isn’t a new concept and devices have been communicating via infrared for several years now.

However, Bluetooth is far superior to infrared. For a start it can operate at distances of up to 10 metres. Secondly, devices don’t have to face each other in order to communicate and even walls shouldn’t create an obstruction.

First to market was Ericsson and the company is still strong in the Bluetooth arena. Following the merger of its handsets division with Sony’s, however, the company went through a relatively quiet period in Ireland. Sony Ericsson, however, has begun to appear in Ireland.

Both O2 and Vodafone are now selling the Bluetooth-enabled T68i, while Sony Ericsson also has a number of Bluetooth headsets such as the HBH-15 and HBH-30, for hands-free operation.

Nokia too has entered the Bluetooth arena. Already on sale are the 6310i and the 8910 handsets. Upcoming models such as the 7650 and 3650 will also be Bluetooth-enabled. Nokia too has a Bluetooth headset, the HDW-2.

Motorola is the latest manufacturer to launch its portfolio of Bluetooth products. Available immediately is the Motorola’s headset and PC card for laptop computers. Using it will allow the laptop to communicate with other enabled devices such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), printers and other computers. Later this year, Motorola will launch its first Bluetooth-enabled phone, the Timeport 280i. The phone is essentially an upgrade of the existing Timeport 280 with an added Bluetooth module.

The fourth Motorola product to be announced was a car kit. It comes in the form of a remote control panel that is mounted on to the dashboard of a car. Nearly all of the functions needed to operate the phone can be conducted via this panel, without the need to physically connect the phone. When the car’s ignition is switched on, the Bluetooth link will be automatically established.

According to Mike Thresh, product marketing manager with Motorola, the company is seeing good demand for Bluetooth products. “A lot of people are interested in the upcoming T280i, while we’re having trouble keeping up with demand for our headset,” he says.

Thresh cites the declining cost of Bluetooth chips as a key driver for growth along with the growing availability of devices. With regard to interoperability, Thresh says there had been a few problems. “There was one issue with headsets, where one manufacturer went for a different profile to everyone else. However, it has launched updated software and I believe the problem is being resolved,” he explains.

However, phones and headsets are not the only products to arrive. In the laptop computer sphere, manufacturers such as Sony, IBM, Fujitsu Siemens and Toshiba have released enabled machines. Bluetooth has already come to PDAs. The iPaq H3870 is Bluetooth-enabled, while the latest PDAs from Palm can be fitted with a module. The forthcoming range of Tungsten PDAs from Palm, its next generation of business orientated devices, are also likely to have Bluetooth built in.

If your laptop computer isn’t Bluetooth-enabled, you have the option of buying a Bluetooth PC card. Manufacturers such as TDK have launched cards along with the aforementioned Motorola card.

Another important area is software. While most products are bundled with their own software suite, support of the major operating system developers is also vital.

Apple already supports Bluetooth with its latest edition Mac OS X 10.2. Initially, Microsoft said it wouldn’t support the standard. It has subsequently announced, however, that it will be built into Windows XP Service Pack 1. This didn’t materialise when it was released earlier this year but it is now understood the company is planning to introduce Bluetooth support in the form of a downloadable update later this year.

Microsoft also will be launching its own range of Bluetooth keyboards and mice. The support of major operating systems will effectively transform Bluetooth into ‘plug and play’ technology, making it easier to use.

Although Microsoft’s announcement shows the standard is moving to the desktop sphere, the technology surrounding it is at its most useful in the mobile space. Using a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone and laptop in conjunction with GPRS is, we’ve found, one of the most practical solutions yet to internet access on the move.