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Have Bluetooth buddies pulled a flanker on Intel?

All-new 54Mbit/s system with global, seamless roaming makes Bluetooth 'cable replacement' after all

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A clutch of companies led by Nokia and Ericsson is pitching a new broadband wireless standard for office and home networking, and for use in conjunction with 3G mobile phone networks. But in aiming to make HiperLAN 2 a ubiquitous global standard they may be clipping Bluetooth's wings. Among the prime movers behind the Bluetooth standard are of course, er, Nokia and Ericsson. Present at the unveiling of the HiperLAN 2 Global Forum in London this morning were representatives of Nokia, Ericsson, Dell, Bosch Telecom, Scandinavian telco Telia and Texas Instruments. UK forum chairman Vesa Wallden (Nokia) said that all companies were welcome to join the new group, but The Register suspects that the Vikings have pulled another stroke on Motorola, which wound up as Tail-End Charlie in the Symbian consortium, and have manoeuvred themselves into a comfortable leadership role in the nascent HiperLAN Forum. They may also have stitched-up fellow Bluetooth leader Intel, which has been busily working on networking aspects of Bluetooth. This may turn out to be somewhat redundant, as Wallden tells us "Bluetooth is for personal area coverage," while the Ericsson rep says more brutally: "Bluetooth is the replacement of cable." Chipzilla may not be entirely happy about this. Bluetooth is far narrower bandwidth than HiperLAN, which will be able to deliver up to 54Mbit/s, but is intended to be dirt cheap, and could to some extent be viable as a wireless networking standard. At the Intel Developer Forum a couple of weeks back Intel positioned Bluetooth networking as an in-room system, as a low traffic system for between rooms, and as a way to connect wirelessly to data access points. Intel sees HomeRF and 802.11 as providing higher bandwidth local connectivity, and cellular/W-CDMA (i.e. UMTS 3G, right now) as dealing with roaming access. HiperLAN at least partially kicks over this little apple-cart. Its proponents agree that Bluetooth will be used for data access port connectivity (so it's likely to be the local connector for HiperLAN networks), but the "personal area coverage" tag really positions it as a cable substitute, and a way to allow all of your different personal electronic devices to talk to one another. The piconet aspect of Bluetooth, where multiple Bluetooth devices form mini networks on the fly whenever they're in the range, takes it a little further out there, but if the HiperLAN proponents get their way, probably not much further. The way they see HiperLAN networks operating is intriguing, and gives you an idea of why they're keener on networking this way than via Bluetooth. It uses the 5GHz band, which is unlicensed like the 2.4GHz one, but which doesn't as yet have any competition in it, so there will be no squabbling between standards, as will happen at 2.4GHz between Bluetooth, HomeRF and 802.11. Unless of course the US FCC spots a bit of Euro-imperialism and mounts a counter-strike. Office set-ups will be pretty much like 802.11 wireless networking, but interoperability with 3G cellular will mean that HiperLAN users will be able to move seamlessly between local networks (range 30-200 metres) and 3G networks. So you'll get HiperLAN access systems set up in airports, hotels and other public places, and the wireless network operators will be able to charge separately for access. This has the dual effect of giving the operators another way to make money out of you, and helping boost the perceived speed of 3G when it first comes out. UMTS, the European flavour of 3G, is intended to handle 2Mbit/s, or 384kbit/s on the move, but actual throughput will depend on the amount of equipment in position and the number of users. But will HiperLAN fly? HiperLAN 1 (we wondered when you'd ask about that) didn't because of lack of support. In Europe GPRS (General Packet Radio System) will be working in conjunction with GSM soon, and will quite probably turn out to be perfectly adequate during the early stages of the UMTS rollout. The first HiperLAN products won't be out until 2002, which gives GPRS quite a start, and also leaves plenty of space for the oodles of other wireless networking standards to gain market momentum, particularly as HiperLAN will be business first. More ominously they profess not to have a clue about how much devices will cost, apart from being competitive with networking adapters. Bluetooth has its price falls rigorously roadmapped (although some folks don't believe the numbers). And then of course there's the ominous lack of networking heavy-hitters like Cisco, 3Com and, yes, Intel in the front rank of HiperLAN. Nokia and Ericsson may still be able to leverage their wireless partnerships to get HiperLAN deployed, but they could find they've over-reached themselves this time. ®

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