Bluetooth is dead
There, I've said it. I feel better already. I've been thinking along these lines for more than three years, but that's the first time I've made it public. I'm very rarely inclined to trash such major efforts, but the jury's back, and really has been for a while. Bluetooth is toast, finished, over. Stick a fork in it. It's done.
I take no pleasure in the above. I first saw Bluetooth in 1997, when it was called MC Link. It was cool: RF IrDA. Self-organizing mesh networking. Low cost. Universal acceptance. Cheap. But while the Bluetooth community was merrily building the vision (and, occasionally, products), the rest of the world was progressing with significantly greater effectiveness. 802.11 got cheap, too, and much faster. Bluetooth access points were superseded by Wi-Fi rollouts, now moving toward ubiquity in major population centers. Cellular handsets-the natural homeland of Bluetooth-will soon be hosting 802.11 radios.
Bluetooth proponents continue to remind me that millions of Bluetooth chips roll off the lines every month. Quite true. Most go into headsets; some go into keyboards and mouses. But why use a radio that can interfere with 802.11b and g for such purposes? And what's wrong with a wired headset, which is cheaper, better-sounding, lighter and more reliable-and without the silly blinking LED? Gratuitous Bluetooth? You bet.
To be fair, I also want to point out that the Bluetooth applications stack is a great piece of work, and I expect it to find a home in many wireless (and even wired) LANs. Bluetooth thus won't be a total loss-but as a PHY for data, it will be. It's too slow. Overpromised. Underdelivered.
The final nail in the Bluetooth coffin should have been the approval of the 802.15.3a PHY last month in Singapore. It didn't happen, perhaps because diminished corporate travel budgets made it tough for so many to attend this meeting. But we're really close to a WPAN standard that, if nothing else, at least has leading-edge throughput. And I believe that UWB is going to play a big role in consumer electronics and maybe even wireless personal-area networks.
In a few short years, many will look back on Bluetooth as a lesson on marketing gone awry. Most will still wonder what all the fuss was all about. Regardless, it's now time to move on.
Craig J. Mathias is principal of Farpoint Group (Ashland, Mass.).