Bluetooth is ready for a leap toward wireless environment

Bluetooth is ready for a leap toward wireless environment

Consortium effort sets a standard for linking PCs with phones, peripherals and handheld devices

By Kevin McCaney

GCN Staff

One of the next frontiers in wireless technology will start at about 10 paces. That's the distance at which products using the Bluetooth specification standard initially will work, the first of them appearing this year.

Ericsson will release its wireless Bluetooth Headset later this year.

The Bluetooth initiative, backed by a consortium of computer and communications companies, is an effort to establish a global standard for wireless communication and networking between PCs and cellular telephones, and other portable and peripheral devices.

The wireless connections, at the 2.54-GHz radio frequency, would do away with a lot of cables around the home or office, allowing links from, for instance, a computer to the keyboard, mouse and monitor. Handheld computers or phones would be able to connect freely, even automatically, to a PC, providing background synchronization of such things as address lists, schedules and messages.

In one Bluetooth scenario, a user who has noted a schedule change on a handheld device could update the schedule on her office PC merely by walking into the room. In another example, a traveler could send e-mail messages by phone without taking his portable PC out of his briefcase. Other uses include Internet access regardless of the available connections; cordless, hands-free connections via headsets; and immediate data exchange among participants in meetings or conferences.

Eventually, Bluetooth connections could be used on aircraft and ships'where they could lighten the load and decrease costs'and on the battlefield.

The Bluetooth specification, released to members of the initiative's Special Interest Group last year, is nearing the end of its definition phase. The first products meeting the standard are those that will work at a range of up to 10 meters, said Skip Bryan, director of technical marketing development for Ericsson Inc., a Swedish company with U.S. headquarters in Richardson, Texas.

All for one

The initiative'which draws its name from Harald Bluetooth, a Danish king of the Middle Ages'was founded in May 1998 by Ericsson, IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Nokia Corp. of Finland and Toshiba Corp. of Tokyo. The founding five have since been joined in the Bluetooth promoter group by Lucent Technologies Inc. of Murray Hill, N.J., Microsoft Corp., Motorola Inc. and 3Com Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif.

More than 1,300 other companies have signed on to the initiative as adopters, planning to develop products using the Bluetooth specifications.

Though wireless technologies have been around for a while, they have not been uniform, Bryan said. The goal of Bluetooth is to set a standard for low-cost, small-form-factor links of up to 1 Mbps using a spread spectrum with 1,600 hops per second. The rate of frequency hops provides security and allows for establishing priorities among multiple devices, Bryan said.

Bluetooth products will follow on the heels of the specification. Intel, for instance, has been developing a radio module and chip set along with other hardware and software. Toshiba has demonstrated a phone and notebook PC, and Ericsson expects to release its wireless Bluetooth Headset by midyear. Last month, two companies'IVT Corp. of Ottawa and Extended Systems Inc. of Boise, Idaho'released Bluetooth protocol stacks. A slew of other products is likely to follow.

Although the first generation of Bluetooth products will operate within a 10-meter range, the second generation could reach a range of 100 meters by increasing the transmission power, the means for which is still being developed, Bryan said. 'Power is still the issue,' he said.

Bluetooth is not alone in seeking to expand wireless capabilities. The Home Phone Networking Alliance recently approved a second-generation standard for linking computers and peripherals over existing phone lines. Apple Computer Inc. is using the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' 802.11 standard for its AirPort system. And another initiative, Home RF, is developing low-cost radio frequency products similar to those of Bluetooth.

Bryan acknowledged the potential for competition but said that Bluetooth will have strength in sheer numbers and that the several standards do not all cover the same territory. IEEE 802.11, for instance, is for higher data rates'11 Mbps'than Bluetooth, as is Home PNA 2.0. And IEEE is considering the Bluetooth specifications for an 802.15 standard for personal area networks.

As products are being developed, Bluetooth's promoters are completing the definitions and designing an exacting certification process, Bryan said. 'We don't want to fail to deliver on the promise' of wireless interoperability, he said.

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