Bye-Bye, Bluetooth Ignore the hype: This new wireless technology standard is doomed to fail. Here's why we should bid it farewell sooner rather than later.
By J. William Gurley

(FORTUNE Magazine) – It's just a fact of life That no ones cares to mention She wasn't good But she had good intentions. --Lyle Lovett

It is time to say goodbye to Bluetooth, the much-marketed technology standard for connecting mobile devices wirelessly. Such a drastic statement is likely to draw criticism, especially from companies still hard at work on Bluetooth-related products. But the sooner those companies end their efforts, the better off they will be.

For those of you who don't know, Bluetooth is a three-year effort by the tech industry to create a standard for allowing PCs to talk to PDAs to talk to cell phones, MP3 players, and whatever other digital devices come down the road. It's essentially a wireless replacement for cable. The major cell-phone providers and many computer companies are also marketing Bluetooth as a broader solution to connect devices to printers and to serve as a complete wireless Internet connection. And several startups are working on voice-based paging systems--next-generation walkie-talkies--built around Bluetooth.

But I come to bury Bluetooth, not to praise it. The odds are stacked heavily against this well-meaning standard. And while many Bluetooth loyalists are likely screaming something similar to the old man's line in Monty Python and the Holy Grail--"I'm not dead yet!"--it is time to begin penning the eulogy.

One should not be too surprised to see Bluetooth fail. There's little history of well-organized and heavily marketed standards taking over the world. In fact, more often than not, the standards that really change the world sneak up on us from the outside. Something like TCP/IP (a 20-year sneak!) became the foundation of the information superhighway, while the cable industry strung together proprietary networks in Orlando. And remember Taligent, the attempt by IBM and Apple to create an operating system that would topple Microsoft's?

The real problem with Bluetooth is the rising stardom of the 802.11b wireless Ethernet standard, which also goes by the more prosaic name of Wi-Fi. Not originally planned as a competitor to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi is progressing at such a frantic pace that it is leaving others in its wake. As a wireless standard, Wi-Fi has two key technical advantages over Bluetooth: it is ten times faster and it has about ten times the range. Yet it costs about the same per unit. And it is already on an upward spiral of increasing returns. As volumes skyrocket, costs decline. As costs decline, the number of applications the technology can serve increases. As this potential application universe expands, other solutions meet with an untimely early grave. Such will be the case with Bluetooth.

Search technical trade journals for recent articles on Bluetooth, and you will notice a common theme: defensiveness. Headlines read DON'T WRITE OFF BLUETOOTH, BLUETOOTH STILL TEETHING, and WIRELESS ETHERNET: NEITHER BITTEN NOR BLUE. The Bluetooth community is already off balance, and it's hard to play offense when you are constantly playing defense. When Microsoft announced a few months back that it was dropping Bluetooth support from Windows XP, the Bluetooth contingent must have felt as if it were standing in quicksand.

Even without competition from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth would have major challenges. That's because the very concept of a cable replacement like Bluetooth is flawed. In a world where every device is connected to a single network (read: Internet), there is no need to connect individual devices on an ad hoc basis. Bluetooth is like a walkie-talkie system: It supports communication directly between two specific nodes. Wi-Fi is like a cell-phone system: It supports communication between any two nodes, because the nodes are all connected to a common network, and they all have unique addresses.

The latter solution is much more elegant. For starters, if you store data in a network rather than on a single device, you are much better prepared to deal with the failure of that device. There is always an archive on the network. Second, if colleagues need access to the same data, having a centralized copy that everyone can retrieve makes much more sense. With a BlackBerry wireless messaging device, your assistant can update a calendar change on the fly, and your PDA gets updated in real time. Of course, if you insist on a direct desktop-to-PDA update, you can do it across the local-area network through Wi-Fi (or even directly, with the right software change).

Last week Motorola released the Timeport 270c, a Bluetooth-compatible phone. However, if you wish to connect this phone wirelessly to your desktop, you have to purchase the $299 Bluetooth connectivity kit with Bluetooth Smart Module (to plug into the phone) and a Bluetooth PC card (for the notebook). Seems like a lot of work to replace a cable.

J. WILLIAM GURLEY is a partner with Benchmark Capital, a venture capital firm. Except as noted, neither he nor Benchmark has a financial interest in the companies mentioned. To receive an expanded version of Above the Crowd, visit, or to subscribe to the e-mail distribution list, please enter your address at FEEDBACK: