Drilling into Bluetooth

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Bluetooth is a specification for building a short-range radio, on a chip, that can transmit voice and data. Invented by Ericsson, the Swedish cell phone company, Bluetooth was conceived as a way to eliminate cables connecting a phone with a headset or other device.

The name is from an ancient king who united Scandinavia for a while.

But Bluetooth has quickly evolved as a way for several devices to interact with each other, and even as a way to access corporate networks and the Internet. More than 2,000 vendors are members of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (www.bluetooth.com). The first bunch of products is due out in time for Christmas shopping, but the real flood is expected in 2001.

From the beginning, Bluetooth was designed to be small and cheap and use little power. It operates at up to 720K bit/sec at a typical distance of up to 30 feet. One variation can reach about 100 feet.

Unlike infrared links, you don't have to line up Bluetooth ports, and you don't need an unobstructed space between them.

Prices for Bluetooth chipsets today run from $15 to, more commonly, about $25. But proponents are confidently predicting that prices will drop to close to $5 next year and soon after fall below that mark.

Initially, you'll get Bluetooth as a card that fits into a laptop, PDA or cell phone. It should be built directly into the system board in many products starting some time next year and in 2002.

These trends mean that almost anything with a digital "heart" can get Bluetooth connectivity. Motorola is working with automakers to build Bluetooth into a new generation of vehicles. When you get into the car, your PDA will transfer an updated contact file to your cell phone. Using voice commands, you can select a name, dial it and talk, keeping both hands on the steering wheel.

At least, that's the idea anyway.

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