Now That Bluetooth Is Alive, It's Dead Again
By Mike Masnick, Thu Jul 15 23:45:00 GMT 2004

Some people just can't get enough "Bluetooth is dead" stories. Is there anything different this time?


The wireless hype cycle is well chronicled. A new wireless technology is announced and hyped up beyond all belief. The initial versions of that technology fail to live up to the impossibly lofty standards, and analysts come out of the woodwork to declare the technology dead. At this point, the press usually leaves the technology alone and it has a chance to actually mature at a reasonable rate. It happened with WAP, it happened with GPRS and it happened with Bluetooth.

It wasn't that long ago that lots of analysts and reporters had declared Bluetooth dead on arrival. Since that time, however, Bluetooth has caught on like wildfire jumping from 1 million shipments a week about nine months ago to over 2 million shipments per week last month. Clearly, someone's buying into Bluetooth. However, all the analysts and reporters who wrote off Bluetooth the first time, seem embarrassed to admit their mistake, and are claiming that Bluetooth's success is more of a temporary glitch in the system that should work itself out shortly.

Back in February, it was analyst Rob Enderle (who doesn't necessarily have the greatest reputation on his predictions) claiming that Bluetooth must be dead because Intel had decided to drop its support for Bluetooth in favor of the version of UWB they are backing. The latest is Eric Brown from MIT's Tech Review claiming that Intel's UWB version will kill Bluetooth within two years.

First, let's face facts: Bluetooth is not perfect. It has its various problems and incompatibilities, but it is shipping now, and shipping in large volumes. However, if it's incompatibility that people are complaining about, shouldn't they be worried that there are two completely different and incompatible UWB standards coming to market? Knocking an established standard off its pedestal really isn't that easy. You have an installed base that wants to see the technology have continued support, and who won't be all that eager to jump to the latest flavor. Add to that the fact that the new challenger can't even agree on its own standard, and it seems a bit early to send the established champion home.

Both of the "woe is Bluetooth" articles above focus on Intel's support of UWB over Bluetooth as the core of their argument. However, Intel's support was never particularly crucial to Bluetooth's success in the first place, and their support of UWB has been known for quite some time. Besides, Intel's support does not necessarily mean a technology will succeed. Remember that its version of UWB still hasn't won even the UWB standards battle, and Intel is the company that bet on HomeRF over Wi-Fi years ago.

UWB has a tremendous amount of potential, and certainly could end up outliving Bluetooth at some point. However, Bluetooth is here now, and it's pretty well established (and seems to be getting more well established every day). UWB (in whatever format) is still struggling with standardization issues, and by the time it makes it to market, the next version of Bluetooth is likely to be in place as well. Reporters and analysts may want everyone to forget that they told us Bluetooth was dead a year ago, but it's tough to give UWB the crown when it hasn't even been born yet.