KU lab works to get snags out of Bluetooth technology

Kansas City,MO (12-20-2002)

From The Business Journal of Kansas City
By Charlie Anderson

In a University of Kansas lab, researchers have begun efforts to help an international wireless technology gain footing.

The lab at the school's Information and Telecommunication Technology Center (ITTC) in Lawrence breaks new ground because it represents the first independent testing facility employed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group Inc. (SIG). Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology that helps computer devices speak to one another.

In the next three months, two KU engineers will test 20 Bluetooth-enabled products to help manufacturers work out bugs in the technology. Bluetooth products have made their way to the market but have dissatisfied users because not all products work together easily.

The lab is the first significant effort on the part of the Overland Park-based Bluetooth SIG to spark research and economic development in Kansas City. Internationally, 15 testing facilities are operated by companies that manufacture Bluetooth products. There, Bluetooth products are rubber-stamped by the Bluetooth SIG if they meet technical specifications.

But the independence of those facilities has been called into question by analysts and the Bluetooth SIG, which led to the creation of the lab at KU.

"This is an initial research project to determine where we are," said Mike McCamon, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG.

The lab at KU is being modeled after a similar interoperability lab at the University of New Hampshire, where Wi-Fi wireless products are tested.

"It all kind of fit together," ITTC Director Victor Frost said.

Joe Evans, a KU professor and ITTC lab director, will oversee the initial project, conducted by researchers Leon Searl and Dan Deavours. The team will test mobile phones, headsets, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and desktop computers, then submit a report to the Bluetooth SIG.

Searl is seemingly the perfect candidate for the testing. He said he sees all sorts of problems with Bluetooth. He also has complaints about the lackluster marketing efforts for the technology.

That's exactly what McCamon wants to hear.

"We want to get a snapshot of where we stand," he said.

After the initial three-month test, the lab will expand into multiple rooms at ITTC's offices. Evans said he expects to get to a point sometime in 2003 where students will examine the Bluetooth chips and learn to design software and applications for the technology.

From that, the lab could spark startup activities with companies looking to commercialize on the Bluetooth platform.

"It is an enabling technology," Evans said. "It's heavily saturated in terms of the chips, but the one thing the (venture capital) folks have pointed out is that there needs to be more software."

About 35 million Bluetooth chips are expected to be in products this year, with that number increasing to 1.3 billion by 2006. That should generate incremental revenue of $12 billion for tech and telecom companies, according to Zelos Research Group LLC in San Francisco.

Manufacturers largely have embraced Bluetooth, but consumers still have to be won over.

"I think anybody who plays with Bluetooth knows you have to be fairly technical right now," said Jack Quinn, president of Micrologic Research in Phoenix. "It's not something for the non-technologically savvy person to be dealing with."

McCamon said he wants to change that. He said he wants consumers with Bluetooth devices to be able to use them together within five minutes of taking them out of the box.

Ken Delaney, an analyst with Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., isn't sold on the technology or McCamon's "five-minute ready" initiative. He said that if manufacturers don't develop a standard across all devices, companies such as Microsoft could run off and try to monopolize the technology.

"They're going to do testing (at KU), but it's not a rigorous test," Delaney said. "Is it better? Yeah. But it's nowhere near Wi-Fi's certification."

Wi-Fi is a faster, longer-range wireless technology that runs over the same unlicensed spectrum. In some circles, it has been billed as a Bluetooth competitor, but McCamon said that's wrong.

"I think (Gartner) would like to see more," he said. "Do we need to do more? Absolutely. Are we going to do more? Absolutely."

Reach Charlie Anderson at 816-421-5900 or by e-mail at clanderson@bizjournals.com.

For more information, contact ITTC.

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