Bluetooth's White Flag
Montgomery's ban sent chills down the spine of athletes and their lawyers because it significantly lowers the burden of proof required to convict athletes of using performance-enhancing drugs. The Court of Arbitration for Sport, which turned down Montgomery's appeal, found that a "non-analytical positive" -- i.e., evidence of doping in the absence of a positive drug test -- was sufficient to uphold his ouster.
What does this have to do with the wireless world? Well, probably not much, but I thought about Montgomery as I read the news reports of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG)'s move this week to promote more cooperation with rival wireless networking technologies including WiFi and Ultra-Wideband (UWB).
Most reporters and analysts see this as a positive move for users and a natural evolution, as wireless technology moves beyond proprietary systems on individual devices toward a more universal form of connectivity. That's valid enough, but I also see it as a final step in the long decline of Bluetooth from a technology that would "revolutionize the personal connectivity market by providing freedom from wired connections" (as the Bluetooth SIG puts it) to just one form of wireless connectivity among many, and hardly the most powerful or prevalent.
In that sense, the Bluetooth group's "We are the world" steps to embrace its competitors (which follows a more limited move to cooperate with makers of UWB-enabled devices last May) represent a "non-analytical positive" -- evidence, in the absence of definitive proof -- that Bluetooth, which was conceived as a universal networking technology, a wireless form of the USB, has failed to live up to its producers' early ambitions.
Bluetooth's stumbles have been well documented. Early on the high price of chips, coupled with problems in coupling Bluetooth-enabled devices, slowed its spread. Its main application turned out to be in linking cellphones to wireless headsets -- hardly the sort of epochal proliferation that its designers and advocates envisioned when the technology was developed in the late 1990s.
(Nasdaq: ERICY), which originally invented the technology, stopped producing new Bluetooth chips in 2004. (See Ericsson Pulls Bluetooth .) More recently, Bluetooth has been plagued by security vulnerabilities. The rapid rise of WiFi, which covers local-area networks of the size once provided by Bluetooth, seemed to further hasten the technology's relegation to footnote status.
To be sure, Bluetooth has its supporters, including research outfit ARC Group, which produced a report a year ago predicting shipments of Bluetooth smartphones would reach 87.5 million, representing 70 percent of the market, in the next four years. Lately the radio spec has made something of a comeback, as the hype fades and it finds its way into maturing products.
This week's moves toward cooperation, though, are a surrender to reality -- a welcome sign that, at least when it comes to wireless networking, the conquer-the-world mentality is a relic of the 1990s. Bluetooth has its place. It's a terrific technology for certain applications. It's not the World's Fastest Man, though.
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung