Successful Conquest

Hands-free mobile kits are no longer the exclusive toys of executives, and their increasing use indicates the growing acceptance of Bluetooth in society. Driven by innovation and legislation, the short-range technology is finding its way into more devices, with expectations that sales of embedded equipment will hit the one-billion mark within the decade.

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By  Tawanda Chihota Published  January 12, 2006

|~|BluetoothAnders200.jpg|~|Anders Edlund, marketing director at the Bluetooth SIG, says the organisation’s cooperation with ultrawideband technology will take Bluetooth to the next generation. |~|When the Danish King Harald Bluetooth marched into Norway in the 10th century, it is unlikely he was looking for historical recognition in the technology industry. But when a special interest group came together under his name in 1998 to drive the development of a short-range wireless specification, Bluetooth became synonymous, not with Scandinavian unification, but hands-free mobile kits and data transfer between devices. According to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), shipments of units embedded with the technology passed 9.5 million per week in November 2005, up from 4.75 million in May 2005. While it began in handsets, Bluetooth is now finding its way into notebooks, PDAs, desktops and even cars. With increased numbers of Bluetooth devices, developers are continuously coming up with new applications for the technology. Ericsson and Intel formed the SIG, and immediately invited Nokia, IBM and Toshiba to join. “Those five were the ones who contributed to the technology initially,” says Anders Edlund, marketing director at the Bluetooth SIG. “If you start from the beginning, there was a pretty big hype in 1998. This went on for a couple of years and everyone was really looking forward to using the technology,” says Edlund. Fiona Thomson, lead analyst on short-range wireless at UK-based IMS Research Europe, says that the advent of Bluetooth saw a host of ideas for its use. “When it was first developed, every application under the sun was going to have Bluetooth.” There were quite a lot of early problems regarding interoperability though these were widely overcome by the end of 2002. “Since then the volumes have started to ramp up. It has become quite a success story after a sticky start,” says Thomson. Despite the initial hype, products did not start appearing until 2000 and were in limited quantities. “The real volumes started to appear in 2004. That was when we saw Bluetooth becoming more of a consumer technology, getting to the masses,” claims Edlund. He estimates around 150 million units were shipped in 2004. “And then expectations for 2005 were that there would be a healthy growth, close to a doubling of volumes. But the good news is that is has been more than doubling.” Volumes in 2005 will be very close to 350 million, he predicts. “This is pretty good, but three or four years from now it’s not going to be awfully far off one billion.” ||**|||~||~||~|While not as optimistic as Edlund, IMS Research also predicts strong growth for the technology. It claims that 2005 figures for embedded products are around the 228 million mark, a 98.5% year-on-year growth, while one billion embedded products will be shipped annually by 2010. “This growth has not been driven by consumers, as technology rarely is,” says Edlund. “This has been driven by the industry.” The reduction in production costs has been one of the major factors in the growth. “This was a very important criteria from day one, to make a technology that could be deployed in mobile phones, where manufacturers count every cent.” According to Edlund, the implementation cost of the chips is approaching US$2. “This is why we will continue to see the pick-up rate in mobile phones exceed 50% of all units. We’re not quite there.” In countries where open flirting between the sexes is frowned upon, Bluetooth has emerged as a method of secret interaction. Young men and women in many more traditional countries in the Middle East are now able to pass secret messages across handsets within a short radius. Many UAE girls in Dubai claim that they are bombarded with the phone numbers of admirers while out shopping or in cafes. It is unlikely that the original founders of the Bluetooth SIG realised they would be aiding flirting in the Middle East. Several companies have built businesses around this human ‘networking’ ability, developing mobile phone applications that allow users to create their own profiles, view other people’s profiles and chat to others. “You can also sell things,” says Edlund. “You can advertise your car, or whatever. When you walk by another person with that application it pings a message of who the person is and what they have to sell, so if you’re interested you reply.” Behind France and the UK, Saudi Arabia is the third-biggest market for French-based Mobiluck, one of the companies developing such Bluetooth applications. While Bluetooth is being used to circumvent social taboos in some regions, legislation is driving its use elsewhere. A 2004 ruling in the UK banned the use of mobile phones while driving, a move that boosted Bluetooth sales as users moved towards hands-free kits to get around the problem. As similar rulings are adopted around the world, sales of Bluetooth enabled handsets should see a proportionate rise. While both Edlund and IMS Research think that the mobile phone and headset will remain the most dominant Bluetooth-enabled devices, they both believe we should see a shift to usage in other areas. Much of this shift will come from a new alliance between Bluetooth and an emerging wireless technology called ultrawideband (UWB), which provides data speeds of 100 Mbps to over 2 Gbps transmitted across a wide frequency range at once. ||**|||~|Fiona200.jpg|~|Fiona Thomson at IMS Research believes that one billion embedded products will be shipped by 2010. |~|Edlund describes the cooperation with UWB as taking Bluetooth to the “next generation”. Technology combining the two will give users the power to stream high-definition video, dump the entire contents of an MP3 player onto a computer, and many other applications that require a high bandwidth. The similarities between this new technology and the increasing capabilities of WiFi are certainly there, but the two are not believed to be in competition with one another, with Bluetooth taking the personal area networking space and the WiFi standard going to a wider audience. “WiFi will be used more for streaming content from say a set top box across the home,” says Edlund. Bluetooth, on the other hand, will see its continued use for more personalised products and applications. “For example you have a camcorder that you have been shooting video with, and at home you connect it to the TV to show the video. Or you have an MP3 player, you dump or upload the songs to the player from the PC. You bring the player to the car and stream the music into the car.” Edlund claims that the overlap between WiFi and Bluetooth does not really exist. “WiFi really requires fixed infrastructure, and also UWB and Bluetooth typically don’t have the range to cover the whole home. It could, but is not something we actively promote. I think there are quite big differences which give both technologies a place.” Charles Golvin at US-based Forrester Research agrees that WiFi will be used for the wider range networking, but thinks Bluetooth will face competition from other short-range wireless technologies. “Not only will WiFi be far more prevalent, but also ultrawideband via wireless USB will satisfy many of the local connection needs.” Wireless USB is a new wireless extension to USB that, like Bluetooth, will also utilise UWB technology. Targets for performance have been put at 480 Mbps at three metres and 100 Mbps at 10 metres. “Bluetooth’s embrace of UWB is a smart move in order to improve throughput, but wireless USB will be much more heavily adopted by PC and consumer electronics manufacturers,” says Golvin. Edlund predicts that products embedded with Bluetooth UWB will first emerge in 2007, with serious volumes being sold in 2008 and 2009. “So it’s not exactly round the corner because UWB today is just a technology, it’s being developed.” Issues such as the price of the chipset, maturity of the technology and actual approval to use it are all obstacles that must be overcome. In the meantime, Bluetooth is still moving into new areas and with laptop and palmtop manufacturers now embedding the technology almost as standard, applications are coming from all areas. Apple has launched its own branded Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for wireless connectivity; a company called Chainpus has developed a Bluetooth gamepad, and many others are working on similar innovative products to reduce the tangle of wires. ||**|||~||~||~|Back in the mobile sphere, former UK incumbent BT has turned to Bluetooth as a major factor in its drive for fixed-mobile convergence. The Fusion, unveiled by BT in 1H05, is a fully-featured mobile device on the move, but inside the home or office it connects via Bluetooth to a basestation, which transfers the calls via ADSL. With profits under fire from increased mobile usage, BT is hoping that providing cheaper VoIP calls to its customers will reduce the erosion of traditional revenues, claiming that a 10 minute off peak mobile call from home will cost up to 95% less than the same call using a typical mobile competitor package. While some may argue that calls cost even less using VoIP providers such as Skype where it is permitted, BT is using the ‘ease of use’ tag to draw support, appealing to those who do not know how to start a Skype account or set up a WiFi hotspot. BT claims that phones using WiFi to connect within the home will eventually be available, but are not yet viable for a consumer service, with issues such as battery life still a concern. For now it is just the Bluetooth standard that will link up the phone to the hub. With hints that the Motorola RAZR handset will feature the functionality, Bluetooth Fusion is thought to have considerable appeal. “There are other technologies, but I can’t see any other shaking Bluetooth in the next five years,” says Edlund. If the SIG does not continue to develop the technology, something may well replace Bluetooth. “But the way everything is pointing right now with the wideband, I think Bluetooth will dominate in Personal Area Networking for at least another 10 years,” he concludes. These predictions, should they stand true, will no doubt evolve Bluetooth as a technology into realms for which it was not originally conceived. ||**||

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