It was meant as a crowning moment for a
long-promised technology designed to create a wireless link among
different devices around the home or office.
But instead, the "Bluetooth" demonstration at the world's
biggest computer and electronics show turned into an embarrassing
flop when 100 transmitters equipped with the short-range radio
technology failed to transform a convention hall into a wireless
data network for visitors with palmtop computers.
The ill-fated bid to create the world's biggest Bluetooth
network at this year's CeBIT trade fair underscored the many
obstacles that still plague the two-year-old technology.
Bluetooth is seriously hobbled by a lack of standardized code,
which means that devices of different brands often can't
communicate with each other a big flaw for a technology hailed as
the next step in computer interconnectivity. A new standardized
version of Bluetooth has been developed, but the first gadgets
using it won't be ready until later this spring, and there is no
guarantee that existing Bluetooth devices will be compatible with
the new version.
But such problems have done little to dim enthusiasm among
high-tech companies, many of which latched onto Bluetooth as the
buzz word of CeBIT and keep developing Bluetooth products despite
"If it didn't have problems at the beginning, it wouldn't be
great technology," insisted Ulrich Woessner of German Bluetooth
company Lesswire AG, one of the event's organizers.
Named for a Danish king who unified his kingdoms in Denmark and
Norway, Bluetooth is designed to let computers, mobile phones,
digital cameras almost any electronic gizmo to connect and
The technology is seen as ideal for short-range connections
compared with infrared beams, which require a direct line-of-sight
between the devices and can't travel as far as Bluetooth radio
Companies like Lesswire are developing transmitters that can act
as communication hubs between different gadgets, adding to mobility
by minimizing the tangle of wires and cables.
Virtually all makers of computer hardware and consumer
electronics are beefing up their offerings of Bluetooth-enabled
products. At CeBIT, which began last week and continues this week,
mobile phone leader Nokia introduced its newest Bluetooth handset,
and Hewlett-Packard unveiled a set of computer accessories aimed at
making several printer models Bluetooth compatible. One company,
Anoto AB of Sweden, demonstrated a digital Bluetooth pen that can
transmit handwritten text to a nearby computer or beam it as e-mail
to the user's mobile phone.
The challenge, however, is making sure all Bluetooth products
can communicate with each other.
"At this time, you can say that every Bluetooth product can
have the same problem," admitted Rene Haag of RFI Mobile
Technologies, a company that makes PC cards for home and handheld
computers to make them Bluetooth compatible.
"Right now, the standard is defined, but companies are using
different specifications," Haag said.
That problem torpedoed last week's CeBIT test, when a Bluetooth
card in one of the computer servers failed to communicate with one
of the transmitting devices, Woessner said.
Anoto's Bluetooth pen was not affected by the server problem,
but it exemplifies the interconnectivity problem.
The company says it will hit the stores in December for around
$100 apiece. But besides needing special paper, the cigar-shaped
pens are only compatible with Bluetooth devices made by mobile
phone maker Ericsson. Anoto says that problem will be solved, but
balked at providing details.
"The demo version is only compatible with Ericsson, but the
final version is a different story," Anoto vice president Micco
To make matters worse, Bluetooth is also expensive. A Bluetooth
card for a home computer costs up to $250, even though it may not
be compatible with the gadgets people want to use.
So far, consumer demand for Bluetooth has been anemic due to the
technical problems and the high prices, said Andy Brown, an analyst
with International Data Services, an industry research firm.
But he said companies are jockeying for position now so they can
be ahead of the curve when the standardized code catches on.
"We're just at the beginning of this technology," Haag said.
"With the first deliveries of the new standard, the market should