June 17, 2002, 9:45 AM — Mass use of Bluetooth for short-range wireless communication is years away. The technology's backers hyped Bluetooth and, back in reality, now predict that it will be eight years before Bluetooth is as commonly used as a mobile phone is today.
"We did overheat it a lot," said Mike McCamon, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group Inc. (SIG), in an interview at the fourth annual Bluetooth Congress that ended here on Friday. The Bluetooth SIG trade association comprises hundreds of organizations working on Bluetooth products and applications.
"If you step back, it does take about a decade from the very first user products to mainstream use. I think we are in the second year of Bluetooth adoption," he said. "We realize now that what we are trying to do is a lot bigger than what we originally saw it to be."
Bluetooth was invented in 1994 as a cable replacement technology. It offers data transfer rates of about 400K bps (bits per second) and operates in the 2.4GHz frequency band, the same as many cordless telephones and 802.11b wireless LAN (WLAN) technology. Vendors predicted that Bluetooth would be everywhere by now, but the number of devices with Bluetooth support remains limited and early adopters are the only ones using Bluetooth today.
It took five years from development of the specification to the first products and Bluetooth is "not even halfway" to reaching its goal, McCamon said. That goal is to be a pervasive technology that is used without users giving it any thought, like with infrared and the TV remote today.
"We are definitely still in the early adopting stage, where the gadget-loving person uses the technology," said McCamon.
Dave Bell, managing director of BlueUnplugged.com, an online store dedicated to Bluetooth products founded early last year, agreed.
"The use of Bluetooth is not widespread. There is still a lot of confusion. People don't know what Bluetooth is. In 18 months we will have much better products and user education," he said, adding that the bulk of Liverpool, England, BlueUnplugged.com's sales are to testers and "techies."
"Bluetooth is nowhere near as useable as it should be. We need to get rid of the word Bluetooth, the user does not need to know anything about the technology," said Nick Hunn, managing director of TDK Systems Europe Ltd. in London.
TDK has Bluetooth products on the market, but the company has put the brakes on Bluetooth hype. Vendors that painted futuristic pictures of what Bluetooth would enable users to do and said it would happen soon, "lied," said Hunn.
"User expectation was pushed too high too quickly," said Hunn, who believes that L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co. and Intel Corp., Bluetooth promoters from the start, deliberately created a buzz around the technology to get broad industry support. And it worked, over two dozen chip makers offer Bluetooth chips.