The Future`s Bright, the Future`s Blue

Global hotel group partners with software developer to enable wireless connectivity for guests and employees. This could be the start of something big…
Imagine walking into a hotel lobby and automatically being checked in. A Bluetooth base station in front of the hotel recognised your approach, confirmed your reservation, room preference, customer privileges, and payment methods.
That is what Classwave , a Canadian software developer for Bluetooth environments and Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, have partnered to create in 725 hotels, including Sheratons and Westins, across 80 countries. The deal could signal the beginning of many programs designed to create `smart environments` where people can connect wirelessly with local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs) using the Bluetooth platform.
Classwave`s CEO, Tom Sweeney, who will be speaking at MforMobile`s M2001 USA conference in San Jose April 18-19, calls the orchestration of digital content in such environments “wireless polyphony”. We`d call it pretty cool stuff. But it is actually the name of Classwave`s flagship product and consulting arm, the Polyphony Server and Professional Services Group, which will deliver a suite of mobile data and voice services adapted specifically for the travel and hotel sector. The two companies expect to commence user trials this summer.
Starwood`s CTO, Tom Conophy, affirmed his company`s commitment to provide all its customers with what he described as “the ultimate guest experience by utilising the latest innovations in technology.” Classwave`s Polyphony Server is essentially a `soft switch`, which sends localised and personalised content over network access points and onto devices such as mobile phones and PDAs. Sweeny believes the market for Bluetooth will be big but not without some glitches. “The market will be huge but with regional and device sensitivities,” said Sweeney. “Mobile workers will be the early adopters using phones in Europe but PDAs in the US.” He also sees Bluetooth as away of encouraging the adoption of that much-maligned protocol. WAP.
This is a view shared by James Governor, of analyst group Illuminata, who recently published the report Bluetooth - Truly Pervasive. “For those that think Bluetooth is just another technology for connecting devices using wireless connections, it`s time to think again. The spec is finally building up a head of steam, the kind of market momentum that establishes a de facto standard. The swathe of industry players rolling out Bluetooth-enabled products and technologies is impressive. Some of the factors holding it back, such as interoperability problems, are now being ironed out, and in Europe at least Bluetooth apps will begin to emerge this year.”
He goes on to add: “It looks as if Bluetooth could achieve the impossible and begin to establish WAP as a viable technology for m-commerce. The two wireless protocols may not have been originally intended to be complementary, but complementary they certainly are, offering together the potential for seamless roaming between local area and mobile phone networks. Bluetooth is effectively a connection mechanism initiated through device proximity, while WAP is a higher-level protocol designed with information display and security in mind.”
But WAP is crap right? Before continuing let`s just stress that WAP should not be confused with WML, which is its associated mark-up language for drawing information on small screens. Though the two are often fellow travellers, WAP is a protocol offering transport and security services. Sweeny describes Bluetooth as “the ultimate disruptive technology” - one that introduces fundamentally new business models or possibilities in the market. “Bluetooth is much more cable replacement,” said Sweeny. “A mobile phone with Blueooth becomes a router. This is disruptive because a Smart Network Access Point (SNAPs) and Voice over IP (VoIP) means you may not need cellular to do voice all the time.”
Governor likes the strategy employed by Classwave and thinks it is a good way of showing enterprise how to deliver wireless services themselves instead of relying on Telco`s and service providers to do it. “The marquee client approach is a good one. Choose some high-end clients, build for them, if the applications work then sell them the application server.”
However, he has some reservations. “They desperately need partners and sponsors - some tech companies and not just users. How will they get them? Also, lots promised but they need a way to demo to people. Toronto is hardly the home of wireless tech right now!!” said Governor.
What about the wireless LAN standard 802.11b that companies like Dell and Sony are pioneering for the wireless environment? Will it compete with Bluetooth for the same environments? Classwave`s Sweeney thinks not. “You can put both voice and data through Bluetooth and what`s more its` much cheaper in terms of cost and power consumption.” One area where Bluetooth and 802.11b definitely compete is in the spectrum. The compete for the same frequency which is why Sony (an advocate of 802.11b) recommend that Vaio notebooks should be placed as far away from Bluetooth devices as possible as a way of avoiding interference.
It appears that the battle lines will be drawn between the consumer and business users. Bluetooth will head down the consumer appliance road for reasons of costs and deployment. Ericsson, Motorola, Toshiba and Nokia all plan to put Bluetooth chips in phones and other electronic devices. This is a major volume play and volume is a big part of the Bluetooth model as analysts anticipate over five billion devices by 2006.
Sweeney defined the position that Bluetooth and Classwave occupy as this: “The beauty of capitalism is that problems create arbitrage opportunities for fast-moving companies such as ours.” Will Bluetooth take on the likes of Dell, Compaq and Sony in the enterprise too? Companies like Norwood Systems will be demonstrating office Bluetooth application at 3GSM Congress in Cannes next week. These include a headset and PDA that users can use to roam around campuses while maintaining voice and data contact with their desktop. James Governor writes in his report: “The strategy is that Bluetooth suppliers should be able to drive component costs down further and faster than competing standards, because they are selling to consumer electronics companies and the telephone handset companies. This contrasts with competing standards such as HomeRF and IEEE 802.11b that are primarily targeted at the home/office network and peripheral space.”
“This price differential is clearly demonstrated by the HomeRF FAQ, which claims that you should not have to “pay more than $100 per networked PC.” That kind of price point is just too high. Bluetooth proponents want $5/device-and while they may not get there in their first year or two of deployment, with volume, it`s an achievable target.”
For Bluetooth, the time is now. Products have been arriving in dribs and drabs so far, but that trickle should turn into a flood over the next 12 months. The component market is showing a lot of energy, which should translate into more consumer electronics products. What`s more, there is already middleware available for building Bluetooth-enabled applications. The walls separating the wired and wireless worlds are finally tumbling down, as networks of all kinds are connected to one another, enabling seamless roaming for consumers and businesses. Bluetooth will be a big part of this revolution.