Bluetooth short-range wireless technology, in the spotlight this week at the Bluetooth Developers Conference in California, hasn't yet met some earlier expectations but is finally gaining a foothold that could help it fulfil its original promise.

Standardised in 1998 and envisioned as a communications cloud that would link a variety of computing and communications devices in a PAN (personal area network) around a desk or a person. Bluetooth became available in a large number of shipping products just this year. Most of those products revolve around one type of device: mobile phones.

However, vendors and analysts said those phone-related products already are helping to foster wider Bluetooth adoption by pushing up volumes and driving down component prices.

"Mobile phones are going to be the dominating product when it comes to product volumes," said Johan Akesson, marketing director for Ericsson Technology Licensing in Sweden. The company is a division of Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, which pioneered Bluetooth. Akesson believes shipments of Bluetooth chipsets will grow about 300 percent next year.

Bluetooth is based on a standard that calls for data transmission at a maximum speed of 768Kbps (kilobits per second) over a distance of about 10 metres. A Bluetooth-equipped phone can be used with a cordless headset or as a data modem for a notebook or handheld PC.

Bluetooth add-on kits for cars eliminate the need for a special cradle to hold a mobile phone while the driver uses it in hands-free mode. The technology is now available in high-end phones but will filter down to midrange handsets next year, Akesson said.

Vendors are lining up some phone-related product announcements for the show this week.

Audi AG will demonstrate what it calls the world's first car to be offered with a Bluetooth-enabled gsm (global system for mobile communications) car phone and a cordless Bluetooth handset. The car maker will start offering Bluetooth-equipped models in Europe and Asia this month, according to a company statement. The vehicles will be equipped with BlueCore, an integrated Bluetooth baseband, radio and controller from UK-based Cambridge Silicon Radio.

Motorola will introduce and demonstrate the second generation of its Motorola Wireless Headset, which will offer longer talk and standby time than the first and be able to communicate with as many as eight different devices at once, said Juli Burda, a spokeswoman for the company. It is scheduled to ship in the first quarter of next year for $149.99 (around £95).

Other possible uses of Bluetooth include synchronising data among PCs, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and phones, sending images or video from a digital camera to a phone, and wireless communication between a PC and a printer.

Bluetooth will be integrated into many devices in 2003, but it probably won't be clear until 2004 how people actually want to use the technology, industry analyst Gerry Purdy of California-based MobileTrax LLC said last week.

"We still probably don't know exactly where the most often-used application is going to be, but I suspect it's not what developers thought a few years ago," Purdy said.

The Bluetooth Developers Conference will run today until Thursday. More information is available here.