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Bluetooth: Will it conquer?

Jan 24, 2001

What does wireless technology have in common with a Viking in the 10th Century? It is supposed to be as tidy and conquer the world just as the mighty Harald Bluetooth. A technology that will eliminate the need for cables to interchange data between devices is definitely a concept every body is willing to lend an ear to. It is the rapidly emerging bluetooth technology, which will present another growth opportunity for the Indian software industry too. There are a lot many questions, which need be answered to understand the technology. These include the definition, development & operation of the technology and its advantages. To begin with letís understand the basics first.

What is bluetooth?
Bluetooth wireless technology is a de facto standard, as well as a specification for small-form factor, low-cost, short-range radio links between mobile PCs, mobile phones and other portable devices. The technology is designed to be fully functional even in very noisy radio environment and its voice transmissions are audible even under severe conditions. It provides a very high transmission rate and all data is protected by advanced correction methods as well as encryption and authentication routines for the userís privacy.

How does it work?
A small transceiver is placed inside the digital devices, which will allow the devices to exchange voice and data using radio waves. The advantage is that this exchange can take place even when the devices are not in line of sight at very high data exchanges rates.

Who developed this technology?
In 1994, Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications giant, began looking for a solution that takes us beyond where we thought the current technology could go. The company wanted something that could reach farther, connect many different devices and operate at very low power. The result was Bluetooth. According to DataQuest by the end of 2001, the technology will be built into 30 million electronic devices, which include that of Intel, IBM, Lucent, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Toshiba, 3Com and Ericsson.

What will Bluetooth wireless technology deliver to end-users?
The main benefits will be three fold

  • Voice and data access: Using Bluetooth, different kinds of networks will be able to communicate with each other. A good example would be telephone calls over the Internet. For this communication to take place, the traditional telephone exchange has to communicate with the computer networks.

  • Cable replacement: Bluetooth will eliminate the need for cables altogether.

  • Personal ad hoc networks: All your electronic equipments can communicate and snychronise information with each other. For example if an appointment is entered into with the PC it will be reflected in your organiser too.

Some examples of day-to-day usage of bluetooth are as follows:

  • With the use of bluetooth, by linking wirelessly, a laptop with a cellular phone, a businessman waiting for a flight can access his e-mail at airport.

  • When you want to buy something, you could scan its bar code into your cell phone and go to a shop. When you walked past a store with the product, your cellular phone would alert you. This is because when two Bluetooth equipped devices come within 10-meters/30 feet range of each other, they can establish a connection together.

  • Your laptop could send information to a printer in the next room, or your microwave could send a message to your mobile phone telling you that your meal is ready. With potential like that, it's no wonder that Bluetooth is set to become the fastest adopted technology in history.

  • You enter a bus and your bus fare is automatically paid by your mobile phone. Or you get an automatic text message notifying that your kids are safely back from school.

    While waiting at the airport lounge, you get some interesting duty-free offers directly to your mobile phone.

  • You could play multiplayer games with your friends, or write e-mails on your laptop on the plane, then when you land and switch on your handset, the messages can be automatically sent by your phone.

  • You could even use your mobile phone to control the locking and alarm on your car, as well as integrate it with the car's stereo so you can talk hands free while you are on the go. Thus BT will have tremendous effect on everyday life.

The examples given here seem amazing! But it remains to see when the technology is actually developed. As of now, none of the companies worldwide are actually offering the devices with the use of this technology. IBM plans to release a Bluetooth computer card in December. Motorola and Ericsson expect to have Bluetooth cell-phones available before December end. Ericsson will also offer a cordless headset so that phone users can be unencumbered as they drive down the freeway or stroll around their offices. In India companies like Wipro are also working to develop this technology in house.

The technology is expected to really take off several years from now when the next generation of cellular phones--called G3 (third generation) - will be able to link up to the Internet at broadband speeds of two million bits per second. That's about 200 times faster than today's handheld devices.

But the question is what does Bluetooth have in hold for the Indian software industry?

All the hardware that goes into the devices and the technology for connecting different kind of networks is going to be software based. There will be software that is going to be programmed into the hardware, known as embedded software. Also there will be rules by which different networks talk to each other known as protocols. This will be implemented using high end programming languages like Java, C++, C and operating systems like Unix. These are traditionally core competency areas for Indian software companies. There has been a trend towards outsourcing software requirements to Indian companies. These companies over a period of time have established themselves to be reliable and quality solutions provider.

Today, India is lagging behind in terms of communication infrastructure (point to point connectivity), which can be suitably replaced by adopting Bluetooth. The technology could help India transform into a wireless society much faster than other countries. Before that, the technology needs to prove itself.

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