March 14, 2001, 2:31 PM — Although some skeptics question whether the Bluetooth movement will ever succeed, the company that took home the ComNet 2001 most innovative product award two weeks ago is banking on that success.
Norwood Systems is a U.K. start-up developing software that will do for Bluetooth personal-area networks (PAN) what Novell did for departmental LAN islands -- stitch them together into cohesive enterprise networks.
Bluetooth is a wireless specification being promoted as a way to eliminate cables by 3Com, Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Lucent, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Toshiba and 2,000 other firms. The radio-based technology, conceived by Ericsson, lets Bluetooth-enabled devices within 30 feet of each other communicate at up to 1M bit/sec.
That speed is expected to be cranked up to between 2M and 10M bit/sec in Version 2.0 of the spec, which should be released year-end.
If the speeds increase and Bluetooth radio components drop in price from $20 today to $5 as theyre supposed to, proponents say vendors will add Bluetooth support to everything. That means, among other things, you will be able to connect your laptop to the Internet through your cell phone without hooking one gizmo to the other.
Norwood takes that a step further, envisioning entire Bluetooth-enabled office environments where you can cart your phone, laptop and PDA around and stay plugged in.
The vision, of course, depends on the widespread adoption of Bluetooth. Presuming it becomes pervasive, Norwoods EnterpriseMobility software will make it possible for mobile users to piggyback on different PANs as they move about.
With the Norwood scheme, office PCs become cell basestations, each of which can support three two-way conversations. Where PC coverage is light, dedicated Bluetooth basestations can be added.
The company says beta testing is scheduled to start next month, and the first Norwood products will be available by mid-year. Ernst & Young has been identified as one early user.
Obviously Norwood is making a leap that Bluetooth is here to stay, which may be presumptuous given lingering cost and security concerns. And although this approach isnt going to appeal to everyone, an office without wires has its appeal.