It is the Chambers at Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai. Ashni Parekh picks up her mobile phone which is beeping actively. She has a message on it. It’s Valentine’s Day the next day, and Archies Gift Gallery, a stone’s throw from the hotel she is currently in, has some very special incentives for its clients. Parekh, an Archies regular is promised mega discounts on some of the Valentine’s Day gifts lining the gallery’s show window. Come now and avail forty percent off on all the gifts you can carry home, reads the message. Parekh has a long list of friends she needs to send Valentine’s Day cards and gifts to. This is the perfect chance. Finishing off a successful meeting with an important client, she moves purposefully towards Archies Gift gallery.
Sunil Mehta picks up a chubby pen from its electronics inkstand. This is a prototype for a pen that is capable of sending e-mails for you. The first generation of Bluetooth devices will make it pretty exciting to lose the wires from our devices, Mehta tells his friends, but that’s going to become old hat fairly quickly. After that, he predicts, users will want more advanced products than just his e-pen. He points to a gadget the size and shape of a Zippo lighter–the concept for a Bluetooth car key that doesn’t just open your door lock, but holds your insurance data, tells you how much petrol you have, and moves your car seat to a comfortable position.
According to analysts, the world is getting a rush of ideas for innovations and companies are thinking in new and radical ways.
Mehta’s pen meanwhile, looks like a digital kazoo and sits in a beige retro-look pot that, if it is ever developed commercially, will sit on the coffee table and beam whatever he writes down on his PC or mobile, and send it off as e-mails. The pen isn’t reality yet. It is just one mocked-up device built by Cambridge Consultants Limited in the UK (CCL). What the Zippo “key” and this pen have in common is the fact that they’re both based on Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth, the technology first conceived by Ericsson’s engineers as a low cost radio interface between the mobile and its accessories way back in 1994, are fueling the imagination of companies such as CCL.
CCL isn’t alone in backing Bluetooth as the industry’s next Big idea. Because it is cheap and simple to understand, more than 2,000 companies have signed up to develop hardware and software for the standard. Whether it’s the CCLs key, Finnish company Nokian’s (yes that’s Nokian) Bluetooth tyres that will send a message to tell you when their pressure needs adjusting, or C Technology’s Magic Stick–a marker pen incorporating a digital camera to scan and transit 3,000 pages of text–we will be on the edge of a boom in gadget culture.
Bluetooth: what’s it about?
Bluetooth is conceived as a way to enable devices to swap information seamlessly, and without the need for cables. Using Bluetooth, your PC could update your Palm’s appointment book every time you walk into the office, without you having to you’re your organizer out of your briefcase. It doesn’t need line-of-sight–indeed, you don’t have to be in the same room as the device with which you’re connecting.
Bluetooth uses radio transmission at 2.4 GHz, a similar frequency to a microwave oven, to carry data over distances of around 10 meters at a speed of 1 Mbit/s. This is one-tenth the speed of Ethernet, and the range is a fraction of other wireless technologies. This means Bluetooth drains a little power, and a complete transmitter and receiver can fit onto a chip the size of your fingernail. This in turn keeps the price of chips low.
It’s thought that one of the ways that Bluetooth will gain prominence is through its close links with the Symbian operating system. Symbian was formed in June 1998 and is an independent joint venture between Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola, Panasonic (Matsushita) and Psion. It has been part of the Bluetooth consortium since its inception. The Symbian operating system is designed to provide a complete software platform, particularly for manufacturers of Wireless Information Devices (WIDs) such as Communicators and Smart phones. Version 6.0 of the Symbian OS has just been released and includes basic Bluetooth and WAP functionality. Bluetooth interoperability is specified through a number of profiles which take various scenarios, from Internet access to business card exchange, and describe how they should be implemented using Bluetooth.
Bluetooth has certainly been quicker in development compared to cellular technology. Thirty five years elapsed between cellular inventions in Bell Lab in 1947 and its first commercial use. By contrast, just nine years elapsed between the first research into developing GSM technology (Global System for Mobile communications) in 1993 and its deployment.
Bluetooth is yet to see its third birthday. Yet by 2002, analyst Frost and Sullivan predicts that two-thirds of handhelds and PCs will use it to transmit the data they send down wires today. Pervasiveness is going to be the first step. The idea is that we will soon be feeling as natural about using Bluetooth as we are with zapping the TV with a remote, or using a mobile phone.
Bluetooth today is attracting the major players. Motorola has produced a PC card to slot into existing Notebook PCs, and its first Bluetooth mobile handset is in production. Ericsson is one of several companies manufacturing a telephone handset based on Bluetooth technology and at networking device manufacturer 3 Com Europe, the first product will be a simple network access device to connect a PC to a local area network (LAN). Bluetooth then is going to be the name of the game in the next two to three years. Besides Bluetooth enabled devices, even application centered around the technology are going to be the order of the day. It might sound gizmo-ish right now, but Bluetooth is expected to bring the wireless world to our doorsteps. Just wait and watch.