Who Says Bluetooth is Dead?


They almost wrote off Bluetooth when WiFi came. But 20 years after the technology reached consumers, four billion devices certify that it is alive and kicking. We access the latest market updates

Some 16 years ago, a tech pundit wrote: “Bluetooth is dead. Bluetooth is toast. Finished. Over. Stick a fork in it. It’s done.” His dire words were triggered by the huge growth of WiFi. He and a lot of other so-called experts thought: “Why would anyone use a wireless technology that worked over a few feet when WiFi worked over 8-10 meters.”?

This year it will be 20 years since the first commercial application of Bluetooth in 1999 and in these two decades, the technology has become one of the most widely used wireless communication tools for short distances. This month, The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) that is the global administrator for the technology, released the 2019 edition of the annual Bluetooth Market Update, with trends and forecasts for each of the key Bluetooth solution areas.

Bluetooth to grow more

The report says that membership of the SIG ( mostly industry players working in BT) crossed 34,000 last year, with the largest chunk of members at 36 per cent in Asia-Pacific. It also predicts that the population of Bluetooth devices today, four billion, is slated to grow at a healthy eight per cent CAGR to top 5.4 billion, by 2023.

There are good reasons why Bluetooth thrives in the presence of faster, longer-range technologies like WiFi and WLAN. WiFi requires a separate router, and you have to pay a monthly broadband subscription for the basic Net connection.

Bluetooth works over shorter distances, but it’s almost as fast and it self-installs for free between two or more devices including every phone system whether Android, iOS, Blackberry, Linux or Windows. This is probably why Bluetooth is the more convenient solution in many use scenarios in the home.

BT speakers and headphones

This is particularly true with loudspeakers. Bluetooth has unwired music, letting us stream it to speaker systems which can be wirelessly linked to multiple sources whether PC, mobile phone or a MP3 music player. The same is true for headphones, with the advantage that if your BT-synced phone received a call, you can do a hands-free conversation, briefly muting music.

The latest avatar of the BT earphones has come from Bose this month, who have integrated it into sunglasses, in Bose Frames, adding some Augmented Reality features.

Bluetooth tracking

The Bluetooth market update recognizes that a significant chunk of the BT market lies in tracking applications. Small BT tracking transmitters or ‘tags’ are available for about Rs 500, which you can attach to your key chain, spectacles or baggage.

We have recently reported on the trend of smart bags in the article “Traditional Luggage Makers Overtaken by Hightech Smart Bags?”. The small Bluetooth tag fitted to the bag is linked to an app on the owner’s mobile phone. When the bag comes within Bluetooth range, the phone beeps and the owner follows the intensity of the beep to locate the bag… very useful on airport luggage belts.

By 2023, the market update suggests that some 300 million tags will be in play worldwide. The days when daadimaa misplaced her specs and the whole family was conscripted to search for it, have gone.

Now she will have attached a BT tag to her glasses and if she loses them, she will open the tracking app on her mobile phone and with a beep-beep, it will guide her to the sofa, where the glasses have slipped under the pillow. Bluetooth is not dead. Long live Bluetooth!

This story is submitted by Anand Parthasarathy. His rich experience, reporting ACE (Appliances and Consumer Electronics) stories encompasses working 15 years with The Hindu as its IT Consulting Editor. He is a qualified instrumentation systems engineer who has worked for 20 years as a scientist on numerous defence R&D projects, and as a project manager for surface-to-air missiles at DRDO.