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Broadcom, Palm Looking a Little Blue in the Tooth

The 2002 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is still very much alive, and, contrary to the media glut, not all of the news revolved around the convergence of DVDs and digital media. Palm Inc. Wednesday said it had teamed with communications chipmaker Broadcom Corp. to create a new Bluetooth architecture for future personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Palm will use the architecture, based on Broadcom's Blutonium transceivers, to craft Personal Area Networks (PANs). As many people now know from all of the attention it has garnered in high-tech press the last two years, Bluetooth is an international standard for short-range wireless data communications, good for 10 meters (about 40 feet), with a modest data transfer rate of 1 megabit per second (Mbps).

Palm hopes that with Broadcom's transceivers and infrared (IrDA), Bluetooth will enable handheld users to interact with a variety of devices, probably in a home networking type of environment. What will this do for the wireless consumer? With handhelds equipped with Broadcom's Bluetooth chips, (in this case, the Broadcom BCM2033 chip) users may synchronize their devices and send documents to a Bluetooth-enabled printer without having to connect to a docking station or other wired interface. Such handhelds can also be combined with Bluetooth phones.

Noting that his company's PDAs adhere to restrictive space and power requirements in order to optimize size and battery life, Palm Senior Vice President of Global Operations Angel Mendez said that Broadcom's Bluetooth products are "a best-value solution meeting our cost, size, performance and power requirements..."

In the broad market, Bluetooth has often been bashed by wireless proponents for not being fast enough, and for having limited range, as compared to other standards, such as Wi-Fi and HomeRF. However, the latter two standards prove much more expensive in setting up wireless networks. Bluetooth, according to some researchers, makes for a good value proposition.

In a recent Cahners In-Stat study, analyst Joyce Putscher addressed both the technology's value and the bum rap it has received in the past year. Not only did Bluetooth chipset sales keep on track to reach 13 million units, but they just about doubled those of Wi-Fi, or 802.11.

Moreover, Putscher said interest in Bluetooth should only increase, as "activity has moved forward in the mobile phone, notebook PC, and adapter space, with specialty adapters just beginning to show up for Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)."

"Once people are educated on what the benefits are, demand will rise for products that include Bluetooth connectivity, as long as prices of products are reasonable," Putscher said. "The challenge lies in getting the message across, and being able to educate the general public correctly in a variety of ways and channels."

Putscher also said Bluetooth chipset shipments will rise sharply to 780 million units in 2005, which would easily make the wireless technology ubiquitous.