better today, but still expensive and rare
First published in Business
October 9-15, 2001, ISSUE 624 The high-tech office column
by ALAN ZISMAN (c)
Two weeks ago, this
column looked at
wireless networking; increasingly popular and increasingly affordable,
if saddled with the less than memorable moniker IEEE 802.11b.
But there's wireless and then there's wireless.
Bluetooth wireless sports
a better name, but is much less visible.
802.11b (aka WiFi) connects computers to the Internet
and business or
home networks, replacing the Ethernet cabling of a traditional local
network with radio waves.
Bluetooth aims to replace all sorts of other cables:
computers to printers, PDAs, digital cameras, cell phones and more. The
Bluetooth vision entails a personal area network, constantly
as users with different devices move in and out of its effective range.
Where 802.11b devices promise an office-wide range of
50 to 100 metres,
Bluetooth devices aim for a range of 10 metres or so, more or less the
size of a large room.
And while 802.11b promises similar speeds to current
Bluetooth, though operating on the same radio frequency, offers much
But speed isn't the issue. Recently, when Hewlett
Packard's Michael McAvoy demonstrated his company's new
Deskjet 995C Bluetooth-capable printer, it was clear that Bluetooth's
was up to task. Using a just-released 3Com Bluetooth PC Card in
his notebook, proud papa McAvoy could easily connect to the printer and
effortlessly print out photos of his new baby.
Some readers may point out that PDAs, many notebooks
and some printer
models have sported infrared ports for several years, promising
But these infrared connections have been rarely used;
their range is
limited to a foot or so and the infrared ports have to be carefully
Bluetooth, using radio, doesn't have any line-of-sight
and has a wide enough range to let users just walk into the room to
synch their PDA or shoot over photos from their camera to their
Bluetooth proponents point out that the technology was
designed with relatively low range and speed. This helps keep power
down, important in small, battery-powered devices. And it should also
costs down, though you wouldn't know it from the high prices of
Bluetooth PC cards and Palm
It's an attractive vision, promising cheap, ubiquitous
information as needed.
802.11b wireless has been growing in an otherwise
market. But at the moment, Bluetooth remains more of a promise than a
Some of that is the classic chicken and egg dilemma.
We often imagine
high tech as always changing, often explosively.
In reality, at least in the short term, manufacturers
and users are
both fairly conservative. Computer-makers are happy to offer faster
several times a year, but otherwise this year's products are fairly
to last year's.
Most are loath to add a new feature such as Bluetooth
to a notebook
computer when there are few devices to connect to.
And why add Bluetooth to a printer when there are few
computers? (HP's Deskjet 995c covers its bases with a USB port for more
conventional wired printing.)
The same vicious circle was broken for USB and
when computer-maker Apple forced users to adopt them by making
the sole means to connect to the company's products. It may take a
act of will before Bluetooth devices, in development since 1994, become
Several local companies have front row seats on the
Bluetooth bus, hoping
it will take them for a long and successful tour. These include Exi
Wireless, making Bluetooth-enabled terminals and routers, and Synchropoint,
writers of some of the software needed by Bluetooth devices.