Bluetooth not the answer to everything

Expectations are wonderful, but when a technology like Bluetooth fails to meet them, there is cause for a re-evaluation.

More than a year ago, it was the buzzword of tech town, but now the realities have set in: it won’t disappear altogether but some analysts feel its uses are limited.

Bob Hafner said Bluetooth, in its first generation, will be a cable replacement – a far cry from how businesses originally anticipated using the technology.

“The businesses we talked to said they were going to build their businesses completely around building networked devices that would be running on Bluetooth only,” said the vice-president for the Gartner Group Canada in Toronto. His vision of Bluetooth revolves around the personal area network (PAN) side, where Bluetooth will be used to synchronize devices.

In the wireless world, he said it is the 802.11 that has been the surprise, but added that it is a networking technology, and that access points are farther with the 802.11.

Sarah Kim recalled some of the early predictions for the technology, which bordered on more of a Jetsons cartoon than on real life wants and needs.

“One day you’ll be able to call your refrigerator from your cell phone from a foreign country to see if you have milk,” said the analyst for wireless technology at the Yankee Group in Boston, Mass. She said while those ideas have slowly faded, the focus on Bluetooth can now be placed back on cable replacement and a more finite approach to what the technology can do.

Kim said while it may not sound glamorous, in surveys conducted by the Yankee Group in the wireless space, respondents commonly ask for wireless headsets. It is problematic to the end user she added, because the initial expectations were so promising that the idea of a headset is a letdown. Another area where Bluetooth could make an impact is in vehicle-type of connectivity because it is in a controlled environment. And ironically, she said that while chip manufacturers are in need of large volume orders, they don’t have the radios to meet those orders.

However, Bob Allen said that the technology is still evolving and that Bluetooth remains in a strong position.

“I don’t see any technology that is trying to do what Bluetooth is doing, so long as people don’t make it into a LAN technology”, said the manager, advanced technology at Wardrop Technologies in Winnipeg. He reaffirmed the belief that Bluetooth is a cable replacement technology, and what is lacking now is sales of PDA devices with Bluetooth. Here is the catch-22 of the debate, because for Bluetooth to be successful, there is a need for the PDA market to grow. He added that the debate about the 802.11 and Bluetooth are altogether different, because it is a LAN versus PAN debate and speed is also another factor.

“It’s a 1MB/sec. versus a typical LAN at 10-100MB/sec. Bluetooth is not as high speed as the 802.11 standards,” Allen said.