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Bluetooth envisions the unplugged office

Dec. 1, 2003
A wireless technology may not be as bad for wire-and-cable distributors as one might think.The young king's dark skin must have only highlighted the corded

A wireless technology may not be as bad for wire-and-cable distributors as one might think.

The young king's dark skin must have only highlighted the corded muscle that lay beneath it as he approached the first of the Norwegian villages. To say the least, the Villagers were made anxious by the arrival of Harald Bluetooth, the man who would be their king. They were weary of the Viking reputation for making their women swoon, and fearful of their prowess and ferocity in battle.

Fortunately, Bluetooth, the eponymous wireless networking technology, leaves little for distributors to fear - even those just a barbarian's row from Scandinavia.

At first glance, a technology that is based on eliminating wires might seem dangerous to those who deal in wire and cable. But, rather than a technological marauder, Bluetooth may turn out to be a business opportunity for electrical distributors.

Bluetooth is a technological specification involving a 2.45 GHz radio that allows various devices to share data and communicate over about a 30-foot radius. Bluetooth is also the name of a consortium of companies that collaborated to include these radio devices in the manufacturing of their products. These companies deal in mobile phones, computers and many other applications of a wireless network for homes and offices.

Howard Dulany, marketing manager for wireless products, mobile computing for IBM's personal systems group, Raleigh, N.C., describes Bluetooth as "an inexpensive way to network devices and computers and different things." The elimination of wires and the automatic synchronization of data within multiple devices amounts to the greater simplicity that Dulany says will come from wireless networking.

Although Bluetooth has the potential to be expanded beyond its small radius, the good news for distributors is that since Bluetooth isn't designed to link entire campuses or skyscrapers, new buildings will still be supplied with fiber-optic and telephone wire.

"All Bluetooth is doing is really replacing the last few feet. Bluetooth's primary focus is to simplify connecting local devices," Dulany said.

The biggest headache Bluetooth could relieve might be the connecting of those devices in older buildings.

"Where (wireless networks) are really great - where they're taking off - is in things like schools. Older buildings are difficult-to-wire environments," Dulany said. "You don't want to rip out walls to (put in) cable."

From Dulany's perspective in the mobile-computing industry, the excitement is focused on being able to uplink instantly and unconsciously with new people in new places.

"The most exciting thing for me is to be able to come into a place and be able to automatically be connected to any devices I need to communicate with," Dulany said.

But even for one person connecting his or her own devices, possibilities abound. A mobile phone with a Bluetooth chip built inside could double as a home phone as well, given the technology's ability to instantly uplink to a home phone line.

Other home simplification applications include the virtual elimination of the need for ports in computers. Picture files can be instantly uploaded from digital cameras; headsets can be totally wireless. Surfing the Web can be done from a laptop or handheld device at the kitchen table or on the couch. Peripheral devices won't be limited to the number of ports you have, or by the length of wire you have. "I'll put the printer wherever it's easiest to put the printer. I won't have to worry about snaking cables or how long they have to be," Dulany said.

Although the current market is small, there is a possibility that wireless networking could become at least a partial alternative to physically wiring buildings in the future.

"I don't think (Bluetooth) is meant to be a replacement for wiring. (But) there are other products that are aimed specifically at replacing wiring," said Frank McGhee, vice president of business development in the home communications business unit for Ericsson, Lynchburg, Va.

802.11b technology, which functions on the same radio frequency as Bluetooth, can be applied to larger areas than Bluetooth through its base stations or cells. 802.11b also carries a higher data transfer rate of 11 megabits/second. Future versions of this technology could push 54 megabits/second, which could be serious competition for fiber-optic wire, according to McGhee.

"If I were (a distributor) I would get involved in the wireless LAN (local area networks) market, and installing and deploying those," said McGhee. "Because you're still going to have to have people that can go in and install those and connect all the different base stations together, because it is still a network."

This wireless revolution could eventually usher in new markets for distributors who would carry the components required for this technology. Forward-looking wholesalers are firm believers. "It's an evolution of the market to go to products like that," said Andy Jones, director of electrical contracting sales for Accu-Tech Corp. Roswell, Ga. "Of course we hate to hear about people not putting cable in."

In the present, there are Bluetooth components that distributors could potentially carry.

PC cards that enable current personal computers to use Bluetooth technology are already on the market. Though it seems unlikely, if data communication wire were to disappear in the future, distributors might still find a new product in wireless technologies. Regardless of the happenings with the rest of the industry, Bluetooth would seem to be less of a grizzly, Scandinavian adversary than its namesake.

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