Bluetooth backers demo wireless PCs

A group of information technology companies this month demonstrated hardwareand software that enable devices to communicate wirelessly, eliminatingthe need for the cables that typically connect PCs to printers and otherperipherals.

The technology, called Bluetooth, spins out of an alliance led by computerchip maker Intel Corp. and including Ericsson, IBM Corp., Nokia Corp., ToshibaAmerica Information Systems Inc., 3Com Corp., Lucent Technologies, Microsoft Corp. and Motorola Inc.

Group members demonstrated the technology by connecting two notebookcomputers using a tiny Bluetooth radio module and software to enable thecomputers to synchronize sharing data wirelessly. Alliance members toutBluetooth technology — a radio wave specification — as technology that couldmake its way into almost any electronic device, enabling devices to sharedata using the same standard and without the need to elaborately configurethe devices for data sharing.

For example, a Bluetooth-equipped laptop could communicate with a Bluetooth-equippedcell phone tucked away inside a briefcase. The user would not have to physicallyconnect the phone to the computer. "We've been very happily surprised bythe broadness of applications," said Simon Ellis, Intel's Mobile CommunicationsMarketing Manager and marketing chairman for the Bluetooth Special InterestGroup, which includes more than 1,300 companies interested in wireless datasharing.

Incorporating Bluetooth technology into a notebook computer should addroughly $30 to the cost, Intel officials said. Bluetooth-equipped productsare expected to start shipping by mid-2000.

For federal users, the advent of Bluetooth technology may bring thesame benefits it brings to mainstream technology users — namely easier sharingof data wirelessly, since standardized equipment will be built into devices.

Nader Moayeri, manager of the wireless communication technologies groupat the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said Bluetooth couldprove useful for federal agencies that need to create temporary officesand want to avoid running cables among computers, printers and other peripherals.He said federal wireless users so far have not become extremely talkativeabout Bluetooth. "Maybe eventually they will realize this is really big,"he said.

At least one issue left to be resolved is the degree to which otherwireless data devices may interfere with Bluetooth technology. Members ofthe wireless local-area network industry are moving toward a standard knownas 802.11. The standard, like Bluetooth technology, operates near 2.4 GHz."One thing that is not yet clear is the effect of interference," Moayerisaid.

Moayeri said military users who set up mobile networks for field operationsmight not find much need for Bluetooth technology, because the technology'srange may be limited to 10 meters in some settings.

Mack Sullivan, director of the Wireless LAN Alliance, an industry consortiumcomposed of vendors of wireless data products, said Bluetooth technologyshould complement existing wireless LAN products. The existing productssend data over greater ranges and throughout complicated networks — notjust from device to device.

"Bluetooth is fundamentally a point-to-point wireless solution thatis slower in speed and shorter in distance," he said, explaining that Bluetoothis more of a "last 5-to-10 feet solution" for sending data among devices.

Sullivan said Bluetooth technology may connect the notebook computersof users in a meeting, but a wireless 802.11 LAN will enable the users toget data stored elsewhere in a building, on an organization's main networkor on the Internet.

The emerging Bluetooth and 802.11 technologies may eventually mergeinto one technology. "Eventually the products may converge and be integrated,"he said. "We can see that distinctions [in wireless data] are blurring."

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