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Motorola expands Bluetooth bets

The struggling handset maker says it's going to widen its effort into making products using Bluetooth, the much-hyped wireless technology that lets devices communicate.

Struggling handset maker Motorola said Monday that it's going to widen its effort into making products using Bluetooth, the much-hyped wireless technology that lets devices communicate.

The handset maker, whose stock was at an eight-year low Friday, intends to start selling the new products by early next year. They include a Bluetooth-enabled networking card meant to be embedded into the motherboards of Intel and PowerPC computers. The cards are being designed to work on Linux, Microsoft Windows 2000 and VxWorks operating system software.

Analysts said Motorola's announcement should be taken in stride, particularly after last week's bombshell from Microsoft that it will not support Bluetooth in its next version of the Windows operating system, XP, even though the company is one of the lead members in the trade group developing the Bluetooth standard.

"When Microsoft joined the Bluetooth group, a number of these players figured that if Bluetooth would go native in Windows, they still would have a huge market--the embedded space," Joyce Putshcer, a Cahners In-Stat Group analyst, said in an e-mail.

Motorola is also announcing its strategy, not new products, she adds.

Jorge Magalhaes, Motorola marketing vice president, said the company is already talking about possible deals with "major" medical and printing industry players, although he wouldn't divulge specific companies. He believes it's these two industries that will be among the first adopters of the software.

For example, in the medical industry, there are often time-consuming errors made in the simple act of filling out myriad forms with the correct patient's name and other biographical information.

"Maybe a Bluetooth-enabled wristband with the pertinent data would eliminate the clerical error," he said.

Bluetooth is a software technology that has been long on promise, but has yet to make much of a dent in the market. Motorola is considered a major Bluetooth player largely because it was a founding member of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

But there are some Bluetooth products available today. Motorola, in association with GN Netcom, has unleashed a Bluetooth headset. The company has also released the Timeport 270 wireless phone, which is Bluetooth-enabled.

Hewlett-Packard has also announced plans for an actual product using Bluetooth software. It plans to launch a range of Bluetooth-enabled PC cards that will let users of its OmniBook and Pavilion notebook PCs wirelessly synchronize files with their personal digital assistants and mobile phones.

Ericsson, the world's No. 2 handset maker, has also come out with a headset using Bluetooth, which allows for hands-free use of a cell phone.

Jack Quinn, president of Micrologic, said the scarcity of products using Bluetooth are tempering any enthusiasm he has for Motorola's news.

"It exists, but if you go down to RadioShack, you can't buy it," he said.

Motorola's announcement does stand out because of its intention to create a Bluetooth card for a variety of operating systems, which no other company does to such an extent, he said.