New York City —The irony of attending the PC Expo conference here in June was that the show really didn't focus on PCs. As Palm COO Alan Kessler quipped in his keynote, it should have been called Wireless Expo.
Kessler touted the SD (secure digital) Card as the next vehicle for extending PDA (personal digital assistant) applications and integration. Currently used in Japan for storing MP3 files, the 64 MB postage stamp-size card can be swapped between, say, a Palm Pilot, a digital camera, and a cell phone. And it can accommodate I/O, so it's useful with Bluetooth and other emerging wireless standards.
What's that? You don't know Bluetooth?
Named for the 10th century Viking king Harald Bluetooth, this mobile wireless technology was created by Ericsson, then licensed for wider development to an industry consortium. Group member Toshiba is promising a PCMCIA card by Q3 2000 and an embedded card by Q4. The current version sports a 1 Mbit/s transmission rate, with maximum range of 10 meters, to be sold for under $200 including its SPANworks software, says Robert Graham, a product/brand manager in Toshiba's computer systems group.
Projected applications can be roughly compared to hot-syncing your PDA to your PC...but in Bluetooth's case, your computer would communicate with every electronic thing in range. Walk into a boardroom for a presentation, and your PC will have sent your PowerPoint slides to all the other laptops before you sit down. Drive through the auto-billing toll booth lane, and your PC will register the toll charge, instead of that windshield transponder. Take your laptop to a colleague's office on another floor in your building, and you can send pages to his printer without fumbling with cables. Other prime targets to lose their cables include Walkman-type portable stereos and cellphone earbuds. See www.bluetooth.com for more info.
But every time the industry falls in love with a new technology, there are other suitors, and this is no exception. IEEE's 802.11b standard (known on the show floor as eight-oh-two-eleven) is another budding wireless standard, with a similar predicted time to market. 802.11 offers a powerful 11 Mbit/s transfer rate at a range of 100 to 400 meters. This LAN is run through "access points," or relays, about the size of a toaster, such as Lucent's ORiNOCO™RG-1000 Residential Gateway. (An orinoco, by the way, is a species of Venezuelan freshwater crocodile).
So why would anyone choose Bluetooth over the powerful 802.11? The answer is cost—while the basic 802.11 network interface card (NIC) is predicted for a sales price in the same $200 range as Bluetooth, access points can run to $1,000. Graham summarizes the difference by saying that Bluetooth is designed for peer-to-peer individual communications, while 802.11 is suited for offices, hotels, and campuses. A third standard, HomeRF, falls between these options in its range and transmission features (check www.homerf.org for more).