Last week there was tremendous activity in the area of wireless communications with vendors such as Microsoft and Xircom upping the ante with regards to their support for the Bluetooth specification.
Bluetooth is a wireless communications specification which enables manufacturers to build short range radio links into portable devices, such as laptops and mobile phones, so they can communicate with each other. The aim is to enable customers to connect their devices together simply and easily without needing to use cables.
Intel and Microsoft are working together to have the Windows operating system natively support the Bluetooth specification during the first half of 2001. Intel is developing Bluetooth software, which the chip giant says will enable early adopters to deliver products to the market.
Intel and Microsoft will also be working with other members of the industry to market and sell the offerings when they become available.
Microsoft had already said in April that it would provide hardware and software support to vendors designing Bluetooth hardware and applications.
The Redmond giant said it will encourage the PC industry to get involved with the development programme to ensure they implement the Bluetooth specification successfully.
In the meantime, Xircom has made its most aggressive move ever to set itself up as the leader in the wireless arena. The company has made deals that affect the wide area network (Wan) links to wireless, Lan and personal networks, which is where Bluetooth makes its mark.
Steve Kleynhans, an analyst at the Meta Group, said: "It's not really an issue of Bluetooth gaining acceptance. It is generally well accepted throughout the industry. What is happening is that the technology is finally moving from 'vapourware' to product. However, even with these announcements it will still be some time before it becomes a truly pervasive technology."
On Microsoft's commitment to the technology, Kleynhans said: "Microsoft had really taken a somewhat agnostic view on the short wireless interconnect market. It was concerned that Bluetooth might not fit with its networking model or would not work well with its operating system, but it became part of the consortium [the Bluetooth Special Interest Group] to deal with those issues. This whole area is too critical for Microsoft to not be involved."
Ericsson enters the fray
Xircom will be manufacturing Bluetooth-enabled versions of its current products, which will be cross marketed with Ericsson. Benny Van Calster, European marketing director at Xircom, said: "The technology exchange resulting from this agreement will position both Xircom and Ericsson at the forefront of the global wireless market, and provide customers with world-class wireless mobile communications products that easily and automatically exchange voice and data."
Xircom has already signed a deal with networking giant Cisco to develop Lan-based wireless solutions. The deal includes exchanging technologies to enable Xircom to broaden its appeal to companies that want to support mobile technology.
Last year Cisco bought wireless company Aeronet, a significant player in the 802.11 wireless arena, and this deal with Xircom will see Aeronet wireless Lan technologies integrated into the Xircom Realport2 expansion card, along with other products for handheld devices, such as the Handspring Visor mobile computer, and appliances running Windows CE.
This will provide handheld computer users with universal serial bus devices and create mini PCI cards. One of the first fruits of the agreement will be an 802.11b-based Springboard wireless Lan card for the Handspring Visor.
Xircom has also bought Omnipoint Technologies (OTI) for $52.2m (£32.6m) from Voicestream Wireless. As a result, it now has access to experts in Wan-based wireless technology inside OTI, who have developed Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), and general packet radio service (GPRS) products and technology.
Just the job?
Xircom's strategy appears to be a simple one: whether it is consumers or corporate users that want a wireless connection, it can provide the PC cards to do the job.
The company is already aspiring to become a mobile data device player following its acquisition of the Rexx personal organiser last year. Dirk Gates, chairman of Xircom, believes that Bluetooth will play a key role in connecting disparate devices, for example mobile phones to handheld data appliances such as its own Rexx product, which will enable users to surf the web. This, he claims, makes a lot more sense than internet-enabling mobile phones. "Let them do what they are good at - making voice calls!" he said.
However, with so many initiatives surrounding the Bluetooth standard, and so many companies wanting to be seen to be taking a lead in developing it, is there a danger that Bluetooth will fragment? Kleynhans thinks not. "While fragmentation is always possible, I think that all the players here are motivated to not let that happen," he said.
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