Bluetooth off to a slow start

Microsoft and 3Com could delay the wireless standard that users eagerly await.

Users who juggle wireless devices such as mobile phones, pagers and handheld computers are eager to get their hands on Bluetooth. But the technology, announced last year, is taking longer than expected to get to market, and it will be two more years before it really takes off, analysts say.

Bluetooth is a standard for short-distance wireless communications, connecting devices at speeds up to 1 megabit per second and distances up to 10 metres.

Only a handful of working prototypes were shown at a Bluetooth pavilion at Comdex last week. Sweden's Ericsson Mobile Communications, a driving force behind Bluetooth, demonstrated a wireless handset for mobile phones. Port Washington, New York-based TDK USA demonstrated a Bluetooth PC Card that's likely to ship by June for $US100.

"Maybe the expectations on timing have been unrealistic," says Gerry Purdy, president and chief executive officer of Mobile Insights in California.

Bluetooth is also being held back because neither 3Com, the maker of the Palm, nor Microsoft, which develops Windows CE, has endorsed it.

"It's curious to me why they are not taking more of a leadership role," Purdy says. Officials from Microsoft and 3Com's Palm division who were at Comdex say they're watching the technology but made no commitments to support it.

Some Palm users are more enthusiastic. One visitor to the Bluetooth pavilion carried an Iridium satellite pager, a Motorola StarTAC phone, and a 3Com Palm on his belt. "Bluetooth would mean I could actually link my Palm to useful information all the time," says Harko Schwartz, president of NCME, a systems integrator in Philadelphia.

Purdy says Bluetooth will turn up in handheld computers, mobile phones, and laptops in a year and will be pervasive by late 2001.

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