Japanese companies prepare Bluetooth trials

There will be hot spots in Japan this summer, but they won't be caused by rising temperatures. Three companies, Nippon Ericsson K.K., Handspring Inc. and trading company Marubeni Group, plan to conduct a three-month test of Bluetooth wireless technology at several "hot spots" in the country starting from mid-July, and hope to extend the trial to other Asian countries, they announced on Tuesday.

It is the first time such trials have been held outside northern Europe, according to Ericsson.

Known officially as the Bluetooth Launch Trial (BLT), the project will offer Bluetooth-based wireless services at cafes and electronics stores in Tokyo, as well as on high-speed bullet trains run by West Japan Railway Co.

At Tokyo's Marunouchi Cafe and So-net Cafe, customers will be able to rent Bluetooth-enabled devices and browse the Internet as well as content developed specifically for the trial. Electronics chain store Sofmap Co. Ltd. plans to distribute Bluetooth-enabled devices to its employees for communication purposes as well as offer the devices to customers, who will be able to access store-related information.

While JR West has yet to finalize details of its trial service, the company is planning to run a limited number of trains equipped with Bluetooth technology, said Makiko Tada, a spokeswoman for JR West. Passengers will be able to rent Bluetooth-enabled PDAs (personal digital assistants) and handheld PCs to browse train-related information such as timetables and station guides, among other services, she said.

"Because trains go through many tunnels, we cannot provide Internet access but video entertainment and business news will be available," Tada said.

Handspring, as well as Casio Computer Co. Ltd., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp., will provide Bluetooth-enabled PDAs and handheld PCs for the trial. The Bluetooth infrastructure will be provided by Ericsson, which will install its BLIP C11 Bluetooth access-point products, which work as hubs that connect Bluetooth-enabled devices to information services such as the Internet, at each trial location.

Other partners in the tests include Sony Communication Network Inc., which will provide online content for the trials, and Wireless Solution AB, which will provide compact flash cards.

Bluetooth technology uses low-power radio waves to allow wireless communication between electronic devices, but the technology has not been widely adopted because it can only cover distances up to 10 meters.

"We are planning to develop the technology for longer distance by 2005," said Hiroshi Suzuki, a manager of new account project division for Ericsson.

Entertainment is seen as the application with the most potential to generate Bluetooth usage among consumers, Suzuki said. Japan is a great market for testing this theory because "the Japanese spend more money killing time with their cell phones, browsing entertaining content for example," he said.

The three partners are also looking beyond the Japanese market.

"We would like to expand our Bluetooth business abroad, starting not only from Japan but from other Asian countries," said Katsuro Hashimoto, a manager in the information technology project division at Marubeni.

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