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Coming Soon To An Airport Near You...
by Mark Sedenquist

For the last couple of weeks, I have participated in an online forum sponsored by CMP Media and led by Troy Holtby. Troy is a product manager for 3Com and has worked extensively with Bluetooth and other wireless local area network devices. Many of the forum's participants were engineers or possessed technical expertise beyond the ken of this writer, but the (possibly unintended) underlying information in their postings was upbeat and very appropriate for Dashboarders to keep in mind. One of the difficulties in reading about wireless gear and services is that it's easy to get caught-up in the battle of competing technologies and to lose sight of the goals that launched those communication technologies to begin with. For instance, do you care that the gas refrigerant that enables the machinery to keep your food fresh in your kitchen is probably not the ammonia-based product that we use in the mobile office known as the Phoenix One? Would it really matter to you if your cellular phone used Bluetooth or any other wireless protocol as long as it worked flawlessly and independent of any effort on your part to connect to the Internet? I don't think it does for most of us.

In the forum, Troy discussed at length some of the possible roles that Bluetooth might play as a partial solution to connect to the Internet at a reasonable cost and speed. I am reminded of the Citibank TV ad currently running on US TV. Scores of firemen use ladders and specialized fire rescue equipment to "save" a kitten stuck up in a tree. The tagline of the ad raises questions about using the appropriate technology to meet the objective. Bluetooth is a slower speed radio transmission system that uses considerably less power to connect devices like cellular phones and PDAs. As such, it is not as robust or fast as 802.11(b), but it does provide a reasonable level of speed so that a Bluetooth-equipped cellular phone could transfer e-mail to a laptop at the upper speed limits of the cellular-delivered data. Currently, to take advantage of the fastest cellular data speeds, one has to add a relatively clunky CDPD modem. A Bluetooth-equipped phone, in contrast, could handle that chore without the hassle of adding an external device.

On behalf of RoadTrip America, Sam Churchill recently spoke with Nigel Ballard, who is a product strategist with Cerulic, a company based in Portland, Oregon. Cerulic is supplying and installing Bluetooth access points in airports, hotels, and conference centers. As envisioned by Cerulic, these Bluetooth-enabled access points would connect cellular phones with broadband networks and allow users to download e-mail and other data from the Internet as they walk through the airport corridors without any prompting by the owners of the cellular phones. An application of this technology that I would like explored would be the installation of access points at drive-up Dashboarder phone booths where Bluetooth- enabled phones could exchange and sync e-mail and other data wirelessly.

Bluetooth isn't going to provide the final solution for connecting to the Internet on a roll, but it is a bridge product that we can use until true broadband wireless service makes its way into our vehicles.

Mark Sedenquist
Las Vegas, Nevada
February 27, 2001