Politics and technology stall wireless spec

Industry support for group behind a new wireless specification is eroding after a series of questionable political and technical decisions. The Bluetooth SIG founders group - consisting of Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia, and Toshiba - is missing one key industry member, Microsoft, which wants the SIG to approve only unanimous decisions, thus giving Microsoft, or any other member, veto power. But the killer may be technical. Incredibly, the proposed spec does not support IP.

Industry support for the Bluetooth Special Interest Group's (SIG's) wireless specification is eroding due to a series of questionable political and technical decisions made by the group's founders.

The Bluetooth SIG founders group -- consisting of Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia, and Toshiba -- is missing one key industry member, Microsoft , and the Redmond, Washington, giant is being difficult, sources said.

Even if Microsoft were to join and was given a voting membership -- currently only the five founding members have voting rights on the final specification -- the structure allows a vote of 4-1 to approve a change to the specification. Microsoft wants the SIG to approve only unanimous decisions, thus giving Microsoft, or any other member, veto power over changes to the specification, according to sources.

The SIG also requires all of its members to give up intellectual property rights to technology developed for Bluetooth. Microsoft and current members who did not read the fine print, are concerned.

"Some members feel they are not a full part of the process and don't have a say on the final specs," said Phil Redmond, an analyst at the Yankee Group, in Boston.

Without Microsoft membership, the Bluetooth specification may never get Microsoft Logo approval. Along with a host of more technical problems, lack of Microsoft membership may become the final straw that prevents Bluetooth from becoming a widely adopted standard, said Rob Enderle, a senior analyst at the Giga Information Group, in Santa Clara, Calif.

"Lack of support puts a cloud over it. If one of the two big members of the [Wintel] platform does not support it, it is a good chance it may not fly," Enderle said. "Particularly when the Federal Aviation Administration is indicating they may disapprove. It doesn't take make much on top of that to kill it."

The specification is also facing some technological hurdles. Because it uses the same bandwidth as the industry standard local wireless technology, 802.11, there will be collisions -- causing lost packets -- between data sent by more than one device working in the same environment, Intel officials said.

Bluetooth devices could also collide with devices using Microsoft's wireless home network technology.

Also, although the industry in general is moving toward IP as a standard communications protocol, Bluetooth does not use it.

"It doesn't make sense. Bluetooth ought to be IP-compliant," said Andrew Seybold, editor in chief of Outlook on Communications and Computing, in Brookdale, Calif.

If ever adopted, Bluetooth could solve a number of communications problems for IT managers.

"If the specification achieves its objectives, it will be the first major initiative to allow seamless wireless interoperability between virtually all transmittable devices from cellular phones to portable computers and even ATM machines," said Veronica Williams, managing director at Absolute Computer Technologies, a communications consultancy in South Orange, N.J.

"IT managers will benefit, but if it turns into a political dogfight, everybody loses," Seybold said.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group is at www.bluetooth.com.

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