Bluetooth: Dead and alive

TechOnline India - April 14, 2009

After all the research, development, marketing and debates, Bluetooth was successful. But only as a mobile headset cable replacement. So, is that it?

After all the research, development, marketing and debates, Bluetooth was successful. As a mobile headset cable replacement. So, is that it?

The recent announcement that Bluetooth 3.0 will emerge with higher data rates by running over Wi-Fi networks via a protocol adaptation layer made it clear that after all the work, delays, more work, more delays, marketing, fighting and debates, Bluetooth is, in the end, just another communications protocol.

Of course, back when it was first emerging, it was much more than that. It was a game changer. It would be omnipresent and revolutionize the world by getting rid of cables and freeing up users so they could 'jack in' anywhere, anytime, to any system.

Naturally, there were debates over whether it could survive in the face of Wi-Fi's onslaught. Was there even a need for Bluetooth as Wi-Fi proliferated and ZigBee emerged? The most famous debate "Bluetooth: Dead or alive" was between analyst Craig Mathias of Farpoint Group and Paul Marino, then of Philips Semiconductors. That debate came about after Ericsson, who devised the standard, backed out of making Bluetooth chips.

Between them they pretty much laid out all the arguments for and against Bluetooth, including other emerging wireless technologies and their potential impact.

Since that debate, WiBree was pushed into the fray, courtesy of Nokia, and became part of the Bluetooth spec. UWB emerged finally, only to also get thrown into (I was going to say 'under' but it's too early to say that) the Bluetooth bus.

So, in many ways, both camps were right: Bluetooth both died and lived, depending on your definition of what Bluetooth actually is. Those that argued early on that Bluetooth was a fully encapsulated, one stop, physical and protocol layer that would change the world and be adopted by everyone were dead wrong.

Those that argued that Bluetooth would grow old and die within the narrow confines of the wireless headset application were also wrong.

However, those that recognized that -- despite all the arguments and debates around low-power radio performance -- Bluetooth was and is, at its heart, simply another protocol that has certain advantages with respect to ad hoc, peer-to-peer connectivity, they were the ones with the foresight to see what's happening now. Bluetooth is being separated from the PHY and pushed across any radio that has a need for such a connectivity scheme.

Is this the end of "Bluetooth"? Is it being spread too thin to be even relevant as a name anymore? Or, is it a new beginning for wireless connectivity? Is Bluetooth both dead and alive?

I'd be happy to hear and voice your thoughts in a follow-up article. Add your comments below or drop me a line at 631-543-0445 or at pmannion@techinsights.com.

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