Standards are a vital part of technology, and it's usually assumed that a standard's greatest value is enabling and encouraging interoperability. But there is a more important element often overlooked - what I call the warm, fuzzy feeling. While standards are aimed at the technical community, everyone else benefits via the availability of standards-based products that embody technology that has been blessed by the experts.
The IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN standard is big and complex. There are many options and interpretations, and a compliance test was not included in the standard itself. For that reason, the WLAN industry got together and formed the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), which retained a testing firm to develop compliance and compatibility tests and to do the actual testing. Thus someone buying an 802.11b product with the WECA seal of approval can indeed feel warm and fuzzy that the product will work as advertised and that interoperability is more than a possibility. I think WECA's done a great job. That is the right way to build a market.
Then there's the wrong way. Bluetooth came out of nowhere as the next big thing. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), like WECA an alliance of interested parties, is to be lauded for highly visible marketing. Bluetooth is everywhere, and visions of its application ranging from the simple to the absurd are making the rounds. It is a robust architecture, incorporating voice, data and a broad range of higher-level functionality. But perhaps the marketing vision has gotten ahead of reality. I'm particularly troubled by the degree of LAN-like functionality in Bluetooth, because those nave end users out there might get a warm and fuzzy feeling that leads to disappointment. Whatever its virtues, Bluetooth isn't a wireless LAN. It doesn't have the throughput necessary to serve in that capacity - ask anyone who suffered through the era of 1-Mbit/second WLANs. Don't try to synchronize your notebook at that speed while rushing to the airport, or you'll miss your plane.
In fairness, many marketers at Bluetooth vendors seem to have realized the error of their ways. The rhetoric has diminished, and it appears Bluetooth will be marketed more for point-to-point synchronization and evolving mobile-commerce applications and less for wireless networking. In any business, the best way to create a satisfied customer is to set expectations that can be met. WECA has set an example here that others appear to be following.
Craig J. Mathias is an analyst with the Farpoint Group (Ashland, Mass.).