Delegates air Bluetooth compatibility concerns

The Bluetooth Developers conference this week heard warnings that interoperability and cost issues are looming as device makers...

The Bluetooth Developers conference this week heard warnings that interoperability and cost issues are looming as device makers begin to deploy products featuring the technology in large numbers.

The past six months have seen shipments of Bluetooth components jump sharply, according to some vendors. But analysts warn that as more consumers start to try to use the technology, interoperability and other problems may become apparent.

Bluetooth is designed for wireless data transmission at the relatively low speed of 768kKbps over a short distance (10 metres or less). It is intended primarily for "personal area networks" that wirelessly link devices that a user carries or keeps on their desk.

Vendors have touted Bluetooth for applications ranging from synchronising a personal digital assistant (PDA) with a PC, to controlling home appliances by remote control. But to date it has been used mostly in mobile phones and wireless headsets.

Bluetooth's low cost, acknowledged as a big factor in getting people to buy into it, will be driven down further by new products at the show. And some vendors will be using the conference to introduce ways of making Bluetooth co-exist with IEEE 802.11b wireless Lans, which use the same spectrum of radio frequencies at 2.4GHz.

But as vendors try to expand the applications of Bluetooth, it may prove hard to ensure that all enabled devices can really work with each other, according to some analysts and developers.

This may turn off users just as consumer Bluetooth products become widely available over the next year or so. After what may amount to a beta test by early adopters, the technology finally will become viable for most consumers about two years from now, said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner.

By contrast, IEEE 802.11b wireless Lans have had a smoother road because of rigorous certification by the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), Dulaney said.

Vendors are looking to less expensive components to eventually drive consumer interest in Bluetooth. Ericsson Technology Licensing will demonstrate at the show evaluation boards with samples of its fourth-generation Bluetooth radio, a highly integrated component with a design that reduces by half the number of components needed to build a Bluetooth system.

The critical point in cost reduction is a $5 chip set, most vendors agree. Philips Semiconductors expects to see chip sets at that price in late 2002 or 2003, down from a price of about $10 today, said Gerhard Heider, general manager of Philips Semiconductors connectivity product line.

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