SHANGHAI After weathering harsh years of doubt, Bluetooth is set to blast through to unprecedented levels of popularity, with shipments expected to surge 47 percent this year.
That's a far cry from the technology's humble beginnings, when designers went slack-jawed over its relatively high price and puzzled how it would ever be a check-list item in any spec. Now, Bluetooth module shipments are expected to grow to 1.6 billion in 2010, according to IC Insights.
During the 2006-2010 time period, unit shipments will grow 33 percent per year and revenue will expand from $1.47 billion to more than $3.2 billion.
In 2000, Bluetooth barely made a dent in the market. Last year, 515 million units shipped. The secret? It's cheap and, not surprisingly, will get cheaper. IC Insights bets the average selling price of a Bluetooth chipset in 2010 will be about one-fourth the price in 2002.
"There is no doubt that Bluetooth was over-hyped early on. Nevertheless, the sheer magnitude of global support and wide variety of end-use applications has generated tremendous market potential for the technology," said Bill McClean, principal analyst at IC Insights. "Currently, there are thousands of companies standing behind Bluetooth, including many of the world's foremost electronics suppliers."
At first, cell phones and wireless headsets were the most popular application, followed by PDAs and laptop computers. Soon cars will drive a new area of growth, McClean said.
"Many of the leading automobile manufacturers have stated that Bluetooth will play a key role in establishing telematics applications," he said. "Given that approximately half of all cell phone calls originate from cars, and that countries increasingly are banning the use of cell phones while driving, hands-free calling in the automobile should become quite common. That application is a perfect fit for Bluetooth."
McClean added that Bluetooth is also creeping into stereo headsets used for portable digital music players. Apple may soon launch an iPod with built-in Bluetooth connectivity.