Blue Tooth Wireless workplace goes on the road – doc.

Friday, February 25th, 2005

Bluetooth technology is already popping up in cars — taking phone calls and starting the car remotely. The office is next

Ian Harvey

There’s good news and bad news about Bluetooth, the wireless technology that seamlessly stitches together the fragments of your digital life.

First, a refresher: Bluetooth is a technology protocol that lets devices such as mobile phones, cars, laptops, PDAs and home computers wirelessly and securely communicate. You can update your e-mail by being in the vicinity of your computer, co-ordinate your schedule on the fly and access your address book through one device. It has a range of about nine metres, making it a kind of personal area network (PAN) as opposed to the local area network (LAN) most have at the office.

More important for drivers, it allows hands-free use of a mobile phone through the car’s audio system, resulting in better sound and control all around and a sensible, safe way to get around legislation banning cellphone use while driving.

The good news is, after eight years in the “coming soon” headlines, Bluetooth is hitting the marketplace as an affordable and practical solution. Acura has made it standard in its TL, MDX and RL vehicles in French and English, while Chrysler offers it in the 300C and Pacifica. Other manufacturers have similar offerings in their higher-end products.

For those who want to retrofit, some automakers are producing in-dash CD/MP3 players with Bluetooth features retailing for about $200.

The bad news? You can run from the pressure of work and society, but it’s getting more difficult to hide and unplug from the grid — thus extending that workday even more.

Bluetooth — named after a Viking legend — is the big step toward a totally wireless world, and its first breakthrough is in the vehicle, making it truly mobile technology. Beyond entertainment and phone calls, however, there are other practical possibilities on the design boards: Remote starting to warm the car in the winter or start the air conditioning in summer, iPod or MP3 players streaming to the audio system, a remote parking garage or home garage door controller, payment for gas at the pump and toll road payments — the list goes on.

For the first wave of acceptance, though, the key is the phone function. With more than 70 per cent of mobile calls made while driving and with safety concerns, it’s a rich deposit for manufacturers to mine.

“I like it because, when I’m driving and sometimes the phone conversation gets really quiet for whatever reason and I can’t hear, I just turn up the volume,” says Anton Yewchyn-Pawczuk, a public relations manager at Honda Canada.

Like BMW, DaimlerChrysler and other manufacturers, Acura sees a growing world of Bluetooth enhancements.

For now, Bluetooth simply eliminates wires. This means wireless headsets for about $150 that keeps the phone in your pocket while you talk. In a Bluetooth-enabled vehicle, it means the car audio system takes over the phone function.

“At first, when we introduced it in 2004 vehicles, the questions we got at the customer call centre were around which manufacturers’ phones were compatible,” Yewchyn-Pawczuk says.

With more phones and converged devices, such as the BlackBerry, offered as Bluetooth-enabled, it’s not as much of an issue.

“You just set it up once, all done by voice commands, and then, whenever you get in the car with your mobile, the car recognizes you and transfers the phone function to the car,” he says. “The phone icon will light up on the dash.”

Dialling numbers is a matter of announcing a name or barking out the numbers to the microphone built into the car.

BMW was first to market Bluetooth as part of the BMW Assist package, and it’s extending it through the line.

Cort Nielsen, BMW Canada’s product and technology specialist, says the protocol has taken off in Europe and has just started to pop up in North America. With the growing proliferation of Bluetooth-enabled phones — as in Europe — Nielsen expects the demand for compatible technology in vehicles to also grow.

“Certainly, BMW customers are not afraid of technology,” Nielsen says. “And, I’m a tech head and I love it.”

He says it was easy to incorporate Bluetooth into the BMW 5 and 6 Series because those platforms use fibre optics.

Bluetooth-equipped vehicles also have a function that allows more than one user with a different phone access through the car system. It will prioritize the most frequent driver as the default setting.

There’s a privacy setting so that drivers can switch to a headset or to the mobile phone to take a call they don’t want passengers to hear.

Tejas Rao, Nokia technology director, says although Bluetooth devices have made a breakthrough with automobiles, consumers and business users will begin to see other applications offered as carriers such as Rogers, Telus and Bell look for ways to spur revenues from the data traffic on their networks.

“Games certainly are a big thing,” says Rao, pointing to Nokia’s popular N-Gage platform, which allows users to indulge in multi-player RPGs such as shoot-‘em-ups or snowboarding across Bluetooth networks.

© The Vancouver Sun 2005


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