Bluetooth: Why all the hype?
The BluetoothTM Phenomenon
The BluetoothTM technology has gained recognition, visibility, interest, and membership in its associated special interest group (SIG) at an almost unprecedented rate. Even within the high-technology domain, which often seems filled with hype, Bluetooth wireless communication stands out in terms of the attention that it receives worldwide and within various industries. In the foreword of Bluetooth Revealed, the book that I co-authored with Chatschik Bisdikian, Anders Edlund of Ericsson writes, "In 1997, when some of the initial discussions took place between a few of the telecommunications and portable computing industries major players, no one could even dream about the unprecedented success the program was to enjoy a few years down the road."
In just a couple years, Bluetooth wireless communication has become quite well known. The SIG membership has grown to more than 2000 companies from many industries, including computing, telecommunications, consumer electronics, automotive, and many others. The technology is often a topic of conversation within many industry organizations, with presentations and sessions at numerous conferences not devoted to Bluetooth topics, in addition to the many Bluetooth conferences themselves. In my experience, many people not directly involved with wireless communications or other areas closely associated with the Bluetooth technology have heard of it and are interested in it. Bluetooth wireless communication is highlighted not only in industry publications, but also in mainstream media, both written and broadcast. Several leading media outlets have featured this technology as well.
Here we examine some of the possible reasons for the attention surrounding Bluetooth wireless communication and offer an opinion on what it all means for the future of the technology.
Bluetooth technology is unusual in the industry in terms of its chosen name. The norm in this industry is a name that describes the technology or its purpose, often shortened to an acronym or perhaps some encoding (often including a number) that associates the technology with its sponsoring organization. "TCP/IP," "IEEE 802.11," "RS-232," and "PCMCIA" are all examples of computer industry standards and technology names that have followed the common naming practice.
Bluetooth is neither an acronym nor a description of the technology. Instead, the name was chosen by some of the people who initially got together to discuss the formation of an industry group to develop an open specification for short-range wireless RF communication. Although there are various accounts, the name choice is often attributed to an engineer at Intel who was also a history buff. Because the technology was intended to unite the computing and telecommunications industries and various companies within those and other industries, it seemed fitting to the SIG founders to name the technology after Danish King Harald Blåtand, who united parts of Scandinavia in the tenth century.
The story of the origin of this name is now quite well known and, in fact, is featured on the official Bluetooth SIG Web site, www.bluetooth.com/. In my opinion, this unusual name itself is one reason for the great interest in the technology. The simple fact that the name is unusual seems to catch people's attention, and the story behind the name is interesting to learn and to report to others. Although a "cool" name alone would not be sufficient to sustain the kind of interest surrounding Bluetooth wireless communication, it does seem to be one factor that sparks the interest of many.
Whether or not they are drawn by the unusual name, those who choose to learn about the technology can quickly discovery its interesting aspects and potential value. Wireless communication in general is a hot industry topic, and Bluetooth wireless communication in particular has several compelling attributes:
The capability to replace cables
The potential for use in mobile devices
The capability to carry both voice and data traffic
The promise of use worldwide
The potential for peer-to-peer, ad hoc networking virtually anywhere
Even many of the simpler cable-replacement scenarios that Bluetooth wireless communication addresses (see my article "Is There a Bluetooth 'Killer App'?") are compelling for many people. Even more interesting to some are the further advanced applications, including "hidden computing," ad hoc mobile networks, location awareness, and mobile e-commerce that could be enabled in the future with Bluetooth technology.
Although Bluetooth wireless communication may not promise something for everyone, it does have many applications that lots of people can relate to and can see value in. The promise of short-range wireless voice and data communication anywhere in the world is certainly another reason that many people become interested in Bluetooth technology.
The SIG is not exclusively a technical body; it has a marketing group also. In addition to developing market requirements that the Bluetooth specification was to satisfy, this group is also responsible for promoting the technology. This promotion has taken many forms, including press interviews, speaking engagements, development of marketing collateral, and sponsorship of events such as developers conferences.
Developers conferences in particular not only can help to promote and disseminate information about the technology, but they also can help to gauge the interest in it. There have been many Bluetooth developers conferences, including some sponsored by the SIG and some produced independently. These have been held in numerous places throughout the world and generally have been well attended. The SIG developers conference in Los Angeles in 1999 was attended by about 2,000 people from many diverse geographies and industries. The continued high interest in developers conferences is another indication of the wide awareness and appeal of the Bluetooth technology.
If the formation of an industry group is to garner attention, it doesn't hurt to have industry leaders at the forefront. The current promoter group of the SIG includes major computing, telecommunications, software, and networking companies. In December 1999, 3Com®, Lucent®, Microsoft,® and Motorola® joined the original promoter group of Ericsson, Intel, IBM, Nokia,® and Toshiba®. Together, these companies lead the SIG, which also includes associate and adopter members that now number more than 2,000.
The SIG's initial formation by several industry leaders has, in my opinion, aided the rapid growth of the SIG because of the attention focused on the technology by these well-known companies. The number and diversity of supporters of Bluetooth wireless communication is another grounds for the significant attention that the technology has received.