Will Bluetooth Be Dead By 2006?

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If Intel has its way, Bluetooth will be a dead technology by the end of 2005. Intel s pushing hard for a new wireless USB standard, called WUSB. The goal is to design a wireless standard that s faster and more reliable than Bluetooth. The faster part is the key. WUSB is being set up as a counterpart to 802.11, handling the device to device transfers WiFi doesn t cover; like the movement of audio and video files between PCs and cameras, MP3 players and the like.

While I ve been quite the vocal fan of Bluetooth, the promise of WUSB has me close to salivation. If the goal is realized, WUSB will have data transfer rates of 480 megabits per second at a range of 2 meters. That s quite an improvement over the 12 megabits per second that Bluetooth delivers.

As part of any wireless conversation, it s important to understand where these technologies play. What Bluetooth and WUSB are competing for is dominance in the short range communications arena; previously lead by infrared communication. While WUSB is the soon-to-be new kid on the block, Bluetooth has been around for years, though its purpose has been viewed as unclear by most.

Bluetooth is found in more than half of the PDAs released in the past year, but it s just now becoming more prevalent in notebooks, Tablet PCs and even desktops. The real power of Bluetooth thus far has been in mobility. That is, the ability to get online without cables by using a Bluetooth phone as a modem, connecting to a mobile computing device.

The main problem with Bluetooth has not only been speed, but slow adoption in the US. Feel free to blame mobile carriers and poor marketing for the latter problem though. In Europe, Bluetooth phones are a dime a dozen, but in the US it s a different story. It s just in the past few months that the industry behemoths, Sprint PCS and Verizon, have offered a Bluetooth phone, a rather outdated one at that.

On the marketing side, the promotion of Bluetooth to consumers has been tremendously poor. This lack of marketing has contributed to slow adoption in the US and may end up being the death of Bluetooth entirely. If Intel has taught us anything, it s that they know how to sell. They re as much a marketing company as a chip manufacturer, if Centrino is any example. While most notebook and tablet buyers can t tell you what it is, they ve determined that it s something they need, bypassing non-Centrino alternatives.

But are these short range protocols mutually exclusive? While WUSA will focus on high rate data transfer, like that from video camera to PCs, it s not immediately clear if they plan on targeting other mobile devices like mobile phones and PDAs. The other unknown surrounds accessories. While Bluetooth keyboards, GPS units and other accessories are becoming more popular, again, it s not clear if WUSB will attack these markets either. In all likelihood it s more of a when will they do it rather than a will they do it question.

Intel is forecasting the inclusion of WUSB in their products by mid-2005, with USB dongles being produced by the end of the same year. So by the end of next year, we should see, or at least be hearing about, new computing products and consumer electronics with embedded WUSB. If the development of WUSB stays on course, by the end of next year, we could see a dramatic shift in the landscape of short range wireless communication. Will Bluetooth still be standing? That all depends on the execution, and perhaps marketing, of WUSB.



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