Networking

Bluetooth technology offers career opportunities

For high-tech workers, now is the time to jump on the Bluetooth bandwagon. In this week's TechWatch, Bob Weinstein discusses how this developing wireless technology means new career opportunities for electrical engineers and technicians.


If you follow wireless technology, you’re bound to come across the name “Bluetooth.” The word from wireless pundits is that Bluetooth is a hot technology to learn about if you’re interested in building a career in this rapidly growing industry.

Named after Danish Viking King Harald Bluetooth, technology analysts insist Bluetooth will revolutionize the personal connectivity market by eliminating the need for cable attachments to connect to a host of electronic devices.

There’s even a Bluetooth consortium called the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), which is comprised of leaders in the telecommunications, computing, and network industries. The Bluetooth SIG includes promoter companies 3Com, Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Lucent, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, and Toshiba, and more than 1,300 “adopter” companies.

What is Bluetooth?
Bluetooth is a new standard launched in May 1998 that uses short-range radio links to exchange information. It aims to replace the Infrared Data Association (IrDA) specification of infrared in mobile and computing devices. (The IrDA is an organization that develops standards for wireless, infrared transmission systems between computers.)

“The development of Bluetooth is important because it allows devices to not only talk to one another, but also allows them to synchronize data,” explains Rich Hirsh, vice president of San Francisco-based IT consulting company Cotelligent, Inc. “It will open up a whole new set of applications so data can be exchanged in new ways. Ultimately, it means more opportunities for collaborative computing.”

Bluetooth will connect printers, mobile phones, LCD projectors, modems, wireless LAN devices, notebooks, desktop PCs, and PDAs (personal digital assistants to each other via short-range radio modules installed in each of these devices.

Opportunities in Bluetooth
Roland Van der Meer, former transmission engineer and partner in Palo Alto, CA, venture capital firm ComVentures, Inc., which specializes in the communications industry, advises looking into the Bluetooth standard right now.

“Otherwise, it’s going to be hard getting into the business,” he said. “There are huge opportunities integrating Bluetooth technology. All the big computer and device manufacturers are going to be looking for people.”

Yet, Van der Meer cautions that it’s not an easy transition.

“It’s hard to build a cell handset because of the RF (radio frequency) characteristics,” he said. “It’s not easy building a good Bluetooth device for the same reasons. You have to know a lot about systems, integration of systems, and radio design.”

But, if you have a basic understanding of radio and RF, the systems integration part of the business is a good possibility, Van der Meer said. (RF is the range of electromagnetic frequencies above the audio range and below visible light. All broadcast transmissions, from AM radio to satellites, fall into this range.)

Typically, most people move into the field from either a technician or engineering level. “You should have an electrical engineer’s mindset,” Van der Meer said. “Ideally, you need an electrical engineering, circuit design, or hardware background. It’s a hands-on, trial–and-error design process. You can’t be afraid of playing with hardware and circuit boards.”

Wireless technology is another world. “It’s kind of a black art,” says Van der Meer, “requiring someone who is part scientist and part artist.”

Bluetooth’s reach
Van der Meer claims that Bluetooth could also be one of the most significant developments in the history of communications. “I’ve never seen so many people gel to a standard,” says Van der Meer. “The standard is almost ahead of the application, which is unique.”

Van der Meer insists everything will eventually go Bluetooth. “It has better reach, more bandwidth and is a very operable protocol,” he said. “It can also be a networked protocol, which makes it fantastic in all sorts of applications. This is why all the major companies will be building Bluetooth devices.”

Bluetooth integration into wireless devices has already begun. “This fall we’ll see the integration of Bluetooth, whether it’s a PDA type of device or cell phones or even laptops,” predicts Van der Meer. “By next year, we’ll see a rapid rollout, and by the end of next year, there will be system network devices using Bluetooth.”

If you’re patient and enjoy being part of an emerging technology, this is an exciting place. For more information on Bluetooth, check out the Bluetooth Web site.
Have you begun using Bluetooth in your work? Tell us about it in an e-mail or post your comments.

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