Belkin adds flavour to Bluetooth range

A small flurry of activity from Belkin on the Bluetooth front is raising hopes that the wireless technology may at last be ready...

A small flurry of activity from Belkin on the Bluetooth front is raising hopes that the wireless technology may at last be ready for market, writes Eric Doyle.

Belkin is taking heart from Microsoft's plans to release a Bluetooth-enabled keyboard and mouse in the new year which will give credibility to the ailing technology's future. Along with an alternative, compact headset for mobile phones, Belkin is releasing a USB port transceiver for desktop systems, a PC card version for laptops and a personal digital assistant (PDA) adapter card for Pocket PCs.

Bluetooth products have been dribbling out for the past two years but the more successful of these applications do not involve interaction between different manufacturer's products.

Most noticeable of these have been Bluetooth headsets for mobile phones which offer cable-free as well as hand's free operation - but at the cost of looking somewhat conspicuous. The embarrassment of wearing a bulky, strange-looking and colourful headset has held back sales and the Belkin earpiece attempts to redress the balance by offering a more discrete alternative that spurns the current trend for kingfisher colours and boom microphones.

Headsets are point solutions that communicate with specific, dedicated handsets but the real Bluetooth concept is to create a personal area network (Pan) which does away with cabling and allows PCs, notebooks, PDAs and phones to communicate with each other and a range of other peripherals over the airwaves.

Unfortunately, the initial raft of products failed to prove that different companies' products could be mixed and matched with any degree of confidence. This has set back Bluetooth and handed the leadership over to the competing 802.11 technologies.

Alan Colley, Belkin's European marketing manager, claims that these issues have been addressed and he believes that Bluetooth will offer lower cost and more energy efficiency than 802.11.

"Bluetooth and 802.11 can work side-by-side so the user can choose which is best for what purpose," he said.

He added that the initial release of products forms the basis for a Bluetooth network and that Belkin will release other modules in 2003 to build on these. The expected price for the USB adaptor is £59.99, and the PDA and PC cards cost £79.99 each, although street prices may be lower.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is introducing wireless smart displays which are radio-linked touch-sensitive screens to allow remote access to a central computer. Although aimed at the home market, these screens could have business uses on exhibition stands, kiosks and in foyers.

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