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Wednesday, 14 June, 2000, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Sony bitten by Bluetooth

The robot dog could take your voice mail
By BBC News Online internet reporter
Mark Ward in Monaco

Soon you could be picking up answerphone and e-mail messages from your robot dog.

Consumer electronics giant Sony is planning to put the Bluetooth short range wireless technology in almost every gadget it produces making it easier to get at data in any device, whether that is messages, music or video.

Eventually Sony Walkmans, laptops, digital cameras and even electronic pets like the Aibo robotic dog will be fitted with Bluetooth.

Hiroshi Yoshioka, vice president of the personal networks at Sony unveiled the plans on Wednesday, at the Bluetooth Congress in Monte Carlo.

Cable cutting

Thousands of delegates are attending the meeting to find out the latest information on the Bluetooth technology that gives gadgets the ability to spontaneously find and link to any devices fitted with the low power wireless technology.

Once linked, devices can swap data at up to 700 kilobits per second.

Bluetooth removes the need for a thicket of cables required to swap data between devices such as handheld computers, phones and PCs, MP3 players or games consoles.

Also gone will be the need to keep separate copies of address books and diaries on different devices. As long as Bluetooth devices are within range, they will keep each other up to date.

Connecting up computers and printers within offices will get much easier too.

Team effort

Nearly 2,000 companies have joined the industry group developing Bluetooth. "I cannot remember when so many different and often competing companies have united to promote a technology," said Mr Yoshioka.

But despite the promise of the technology some problems remain to be overcome.

Clare Lees, associate director at the Henley Centre, says it will only prove successful if it makes it easier for people to do what they already do. Unless it makes a difference to the way that people live their lives it will not get adopted, she said.

"It is very hard to push technology where it is not wanted," she added.

Chips are down

Currently, the chips needed for Bluetooth devices are expensive and bulky.

Many of the devices such as mobile phones and handheld computers that Bluetooth is designed for are getting cheaper and smaller. So companies may be reluctant to adopt a technology that pushes up the price and makes them bigger.

Joyce Putscher, a consultant at Cahners In-Stat said that she does not expect Bluetooth to reach a mass audience until 2002 when prices have fallen to $5 per chip and everything can fit on one silicon wafer.

"We don't see Bluetooth happening as soon as some people do," she said.

However, Glenn Collinson, founder of Bluetooth chip-maker Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR), says the technology could become popular before 2002 because so many people are working on ways of reducing the cost and size of the components.

CSR itself has come up with a two-chip Bluetooth module that can be manufactured using widely available chip-making techniques. Mr Collinson expects prices to fall significantly in 2001.

Frequency fight

The 2.4000 - 2.4835 gigahertz frequency band that Bluetooth uses is not available to the same extent in every country. In France, Spain, Japan and Australia, only a subset of this is free to use.

Japan has moved quickly to open up the frequency but in other countries it may take over a year to clear the air for Bluetooth products.

This section of spectrum is unlicensed and there are fears that the low power signals that Bluetooth uses will be swamped by other users of this frequency such as microwave ovens and the radio security tags some shops use to stop clothes being stolen.

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See also:

06 Jun 00 | Business
Ericsson unveils Bluetooth
30 May 00 | Business
Shifting Europe's mobile landscape
23 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's web phone revolution
18 May 00 | Business Basics
The Telecom Revolution
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