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Bluetooth Stateside?

It's happening, but not over here -- we take a look at what's holding up the adoption of Bluetooth in the US

December 11, 2002

2 Min Read
Bluetooth Stateside?

Between 27 million and 28 million devices with Bluetooth chips onboard will be shipped this year, according to Allied Business Intelligence (ABI). Around 19 million of those will be high-end mobile phones, the firm says.

So, with the Bluetooth Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., in full swing, Unstrung has to ask: Why is there so little Bluetooth-compatible equipment available in the U.S.?

"Well, a lot of it is handsets, handsets, handsets," says Navin Sabharwal, director of residential and networking technologies at ABI. The firm expects that 59 million Bluetooth-enabled handsets will ship in 2003.

Most of the handsets currently available that support the short-range wireless connectivity standard are only available in Europe. Manufacturers such as Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications all have Bluetooth-compatible GSM/GPRS models widely available in the Old World.

Nokia, the world's largest cellphone manufacturer, hasn't yet launched fancy new Bluetooth phones like the 7650 and 3650 in the U.S. and isn't likely to "refresh its product line" before 2003, notes Seamus McAteer, principal analyst at the Zelos Group LLC. Both McAteer and Sabharwal expect that Motorola will add more handsets next year. Sony Ericsson has phones like the T68i, but they "don't have much play in North America," Sabharwal says.

However, the adoption of Bluetooth in the U.S. may be spurred by more than just handsets, according to Sabharwal. He sees the cordless desktop computing model -- using Bluetooth to link keyboards and other peripherals -- as a "killer app" for the standard.

Microsoft Corp.'s (Nasdaq: MSFT) move to support Bluetooth in its XP desktop operating system opens the way for this market, making it easier to set up wireless connectivity on the desktop.

However, the 802.11 wireless LAN standard has really caught the imagination of laptop makers -- to the exclusion of Bluetooth, Sabharwal says. "Right now, they're primarily marketing 802.11," he comments.In fact, Sabharwal thinks one of the reasons the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) keeps delaying the introduction of the higher data-rate Bluetooth Radio 2 specification is because it does not want to tread on the toes of the 802.11 lobby (see Bluetooth 2 Postponed?).

However, the low-power Bluetooth specification is much better suited to battery-powered devices than is 802.11, which is really designed to work with mains-powered computers. Sabharwal expects the SIG to ratify a 2-Mbit/s enhanced rate extension to the existing Bluetooth spec in the second half of next year. This is necessary to keep manufacturers of devices like digital cameras happy: These vendors need faster data rates than the 1-Mbit/s or less that Bluetooth currently offers. However, their battery-powered devices can't cope with the power drain caused by the 11-Mbit/s 802.11 specification -- hence the call for a somewhat faster version of Bluetooth.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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