January 03, 2001, 10:04 AM — LAS VEGAS -- At Comdex Fall 2000 this week, attendees will finally get a look at what the short-range radio link called Bluetooth is actually good for - even in corporate networks.
Vendors will display an array of laptops, PDAs, cell phones and printers -- and heaven knows what else -- using Bluetooth to send files back and forth, print documents and dial in to the Internet.
IBM will have its laptops and PDAs handling exactly such tasks. Motorola will offer its Timeport 270 cell phone with a Bluetooth interface and a V.90 modem married with a Bluetooth radio, aimed at laptops. Ericsson, which invented Bluetooth, will show off a Bluetooth cell phone and headset, due out by year-end. Intel will let attendees at three laptops, linked in what's called a Bluetooth "pico net," play the popular "Quake" multipoint network game.
Some vendors are taking a big step beyond this. Companies such as Red-M, the U.K. subsidiary of Madge Networks, will demonstrate Bluetooth access points and servers that can connect Bluetooth-equipped devices to corporate LANs and intranets.
The vendors' technologies will be shown at the Bluetooth Pavilion at the Las Vegas Convention Center and at another showcase at the Venetian Resort.
Not just a cable replacement
The idea of Bluetooth as a network access technology, an overlay on existing corporate data and voice networks, has been percolating for some time. It's a far cry from the cable replacement idea originated by engineers at Ericsson, the Swedish cell phone giant.
"Most see Bluetooth as replacing cables between, say, a headset and a cell phone, or a PDA and a PC," says Simon Gawne, vice president of marketing at Red-M in Wexham, U.K. "We think there will be a need for a managed network infrastructure that lets these devices share information in a controlled way. Bluetooth lets you create a local wireless structure for accessing voice and data services."
Red-M's access points and servers are intended to form such infrastructures.
Red-M is working with a financial services company, which Gawne wouldn't name, that wants to use a Bluetooth network to keep its traders constantly linked to trading data, alerts and messages.
This advanced vision of Bluetooth is fueling the launch of a brand-new industry: Bluetooth service providers. One is Cerulic, of Portland, Ore., which is building, with several unnamed partners in addition to Red-M, what it calls a carrier-class, public-access Bluetooth network that will be installed in airports, hotels and convention centers. Business professionals who do lots of traveling presumably will be willing to pay a monthly fee to instantly link with corporate networks and the Internet.