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Wireless USB 'may slow Bluetooth growth'

Shouldn't that be the other way around?

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Growth in Bluetooth has been spectacular, and will continue to expand, says analyst Fiona Thomson at IMS Research - but though its growth is assured, there is a question mark over just how far it can expand. The cloud over its future is Wireless USB.

Thomson's report, being sent to Bluetooth Special Interest Group members, assesses the expansion over the last three years as being a tenfold one. It is bound to make for excited conversations around the buffet tables during this week's San Jose, California meeting of the SIG.

"In five years time around 100 million each of notebooks, portable digital media players, and games appliances are predicted to have Bluetooth connectivity", Thomson says. "The impact of Bluetooth in some applications in the medium term is still in the balance, as how fast the alternative wireless technology WUSB makes headway in the PC, office equipment and digital camera markets is not yet clear."

The SIG is already preparing for the future threat, of course, as reporter Rick Merritt noted in Doctor Dobbs' Journal: "The current Bluetooth Version 2.0 + Enhanced Data Rate hits a data rate of 3 Mbits/second, [but members] gather in San Jose this week to discuss higher-speed versions of the interface."

The surprise emergence of WUSB is not necessarily the strangest feature of the report, however. The standard was expected to make waves, being heavily sponsored by Intel. Many Bluetooth SIG members are going to raise their eyebrows at the discovery that their future seems to stand or fall with the mobile phone business.

"Two years ago, I'd have said that growth in other areas would accelerate," said one SIG member."Specifically, we were seeing massive growth in factory equipment, where a wireless control unit makes it easier to move equipment around the shop floor."

Another area of success for Bluetooth has been in retail, where chip-and-PIN credit-card readers are spreading - but this isn't regarded as a significant enough part of the future growth to feature in the IMS summary of the report. Nonetheless, the report expects Bluetooth expansion into other areas:

"What is clear is that the penetration of Bluetooth in cellular handsets has increased enormously over the recent past, boding well for its adoption in other equipments in the future," says the summary. That means that Bluetooth may well have an even more dire effect on WUSB than the other way round.

Details and pricing on the report from IMS Research in the UK.

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