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Intel aims Bluetooth efforts at ‘hidden computing’

Hidden computing? Networks you don't know about but that run your life for you? Yup, that's the company...

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Another aspect of Intel's networking strategy started to gain some flesh at the first Bluetooth conference in Atlanta earlier this month -- as one attendee, oblivious to the sinister implications, told The Register: "Intel is keen on hidden computing." Intel in fact seems to be pretty keen on all of the network aspects of Bluetooth, intended as a close proximity universal wireless connectivity standard, which are so far being ignored by the standard's mobile phone supporters. Bluetooth comes in as a sort of 'super-IRDA' that can connect devices automatically within a 10m range, and is roadmapped up from there. It's intended to be cheap, with component costs coming down to the $5 mark after a $100 launch late next year, and because it uses radio spectrum that is unlicensed and (largely) available worldwide, it's universal. That 'largely', incidentally, is a nod to Japan, France and Germany, where not all of the spectrum to be used for Bluetooth is available. The proponents aren't as yet sure how this will work, but there's an outside chance that a Western Bluetooth device arriving in Japanese airspace may accidentally shoot down F15s. Bluetooth is intended to be cheap enough to appear in all classes of devices, from computers through mobile phones and organisers to hi-fi and home entertainment systems. It seems to be weak in the latter category, because the consumer electronics outfits have plans of their own, but for the rest it has near-universal acceptance, notable hold-out being Microsoft, which hasn't joined, and hasn't given the project a yea or a nay. But if Bluetooth is universal, then you basically have a ubiquitous network infrastructure in homes and offices, just crying out for network software. Strangely, dealing with this does not seem to be an immediate priority to the companies devising Bluetooth (the founders were Nokia, Ericsson, Intel, IBM and Toshiba). The spec, which is currently at version 0.7, allows for things called piconets and scatternets, but they're not likely to come to the fore until phase three products, and even then there's no clear roadmap for how it will be done. The first phase products are likely to be cable/IRDA replacement systems, POTS data access adapters and things categorised as 'universal headsets.' At $100-plus per end, the cable replacement should garner few takers, but you could see it at $5. The headphones are just plain weird, and sound chillingly like the illogical conclusion of Nokia and Ericsson plans to take mobile telephony into consumer electronics. Reasoning that they need to sell more than one phone per person in order to keep growing, they're doing coloured phones, Swatch phones, limited edition phones... and they're casting envious glances at Sony. A Bluetooth headset will allow you to talk on your phone when it's in your bag, or listen to your Bluetooth hi-fi system. The Scandinavian duo must be reasoning that everybody bar one man thought the Sony Walkman was a stupid idea, and that nobody was going to wander round the streets listening to music. But truly, this is a stupid idea, and nobody bar the odd dork is going to wander the streets jabbering to themselves. The POTS data access adapter meanwhile looks like part of a solution in search of a problem. The 10m range is a killer, because if you envisage a single adapter somewhere in the home, there are going to be places where devices can't reach it. Bluetooth has the capability of stretching to 100m if you've got a higher powered unit at both ends, but that means repeaters and/or Bluetooth chains peppering buildings. DECT hasn't yet turned into a data standard, but adapters exist already, and its 300m range is a lot more comfortable. Its limitation compared to Bluetooth is that it is point to point, but the Bluetooth alternatives won't be out for over a year. DECT, of course, doesn't play in the US, but around half the delegates to Atlanta were European, and they seemed to be making a lot of the running. So what about the networking side? When Bluetooth devices are within range of one another, they'll exchange data and decide who's going to talk to who, and what they're going to say. A piconet is a small network of such linked devices (you can have up to seven connected at once), and a scatternet is a series of connected piconets. Arbitration here is to be carried out by the software, via something called Bluetooth Adviser which -- spookily -- Intel has volunteered to write. And hidden computing, that thing that Intel is so keen on? Well, you've got Bluetooth devices talking away to one another, sorting out your life and updating in the background, and there's no need for you to know what they're doing at all. It's all automatic. The reports from Atlanta indicate, as we say, that there's not a lot of general interest in this phase yet. The phone guys want to do phased product launches, something new (and no doubt horribly expensive) every year, so it's on the back burner. But not with Intel it's not. Intel is the company pushing hardest at the software end and, according to one delegate, "more and more Intel is coming up and saying 'we'll do drivers, we'll do layers for you'." What a kind company. We think maybe this little lot relates in some way to Intel's thin/embedded server plans, and that the Intel Ineverything strategy is starting to take form. ® Click for more stories Click for story index

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