By David Wolf
So word comes out today that the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has popped into town. Apparently they've handed the China Post and Telecom Industry Standardization Research Institute (CPTISRI) under the MII a license to review the specification. Apparently, the SIG hopes that such actions will help turn Bluetooth into a national standard in China.
I admire the audaciousness of the move, but it won't get them what they want, which, in the end, is widespread adoption. There are several reasons for that.
1. National Standards in China for software don't really exist. Bill Gates showed up at Jiang Zemin's door a decade ago and proposed that Windows should be China's national standard. He was politely ignored. Apparently nobody in the government sees the need for standards.
2. Since then, even when the government attempts to prescribe the use of a certain type of software, it usually gets ignored. The only partial exception is accounting software, which has to meet local accounting standards.
3. If the government were inclined to create a standard – like the abortive WAPI wireless LAN specification last year – they tend to do so on behalf of a local software developer – certainly not to help foreigners.
4. Even if Bluetooth were established as a "national standard," the current bent of the government is that it would not be on an exclusive basis. The government stopped giving exclusives for anything in the early 1990s.
5. So even if Bluetooth became a national standard, no manufacturer would be compelled to use it, and no customer would be compelled to buy it. So it wouldn't help much on the sales front.
6. Being declared a national standard is hardly a ringing endorsement for users. Buyers of technology products of any type tend to use Japanese, Koreans, and Americans far more readily as references than their own government. So government imprimatur is meaningless from a market standpoint.
I would be shocked if the folks at the Bluetooth SIG – who are quite smart people, by the way – haven't figured this much out, or haven't been told as much.
What I suspect, therefore, is that Bluetooth SIG has something else up their sleeve.
Consider this: by opening up the software to government review, they take a strategic step out ahead of Wireless USB (Ultra wideband, or UWB). The government, in the guise of CPTISRI has an opportunity to review Bluetooth, and it will use that precedent to insist that it should do the same for Wireless USB. This is more important for Wireless USB because that technology will face a far more difficult adoption process in China because of the way it uses and manages spectrum, what spectrum it uses, and the way spectrum is allocated in China.
In short, the process of getting Wireless USB through the regulatory hoops is going to be a long and challenging one in China. By taking this move, the Bluetooth SIG has effectively added another time-consuming step in the consultative process that Wireless USB will require in its approval and adoption process.
To maximize the returns on a proprietary technology, you must lengthen the window of opportunity by accomplishing one or both of two things. First, you must help that technology make the quickest leap from early adopters to visionary users to mainstream users, a process Gordon Moore calls Crossing the Chasm.
Second, you must do all you can to keep the technology from being made obsolete by the widespread adoption of a successor technology.
By giving the Chinese government the opportunity to review the specification in detail, the Bluetooth SIG has functionally pushed out its usable horizon by inhibiting the adoption of a successor technology, giving Bluetooth a longer period of time to catch on and become deeply entrenched among mainstream users.
That's all quite clever. Kudos.
There's only one problem. Bluetooth still hasn't made it across the Chasm to the mainstream. Unless it does (and as noted above, the government is unlikely to be of much help in that process), buying itself time at the back end of the usability window may wind up being meaningless.
About the author:
Silicon Hutong is an ongoing series of thoughts and commentaries by David Wolf, President and CEO of Wolf Group Asia'a management advisory firm providing strategic communications counsel to technology, media, entertainment, and telecommunications companies in Greater China and the Asia-Pacific region. David's opinions are his own and do not reflect those of either WGA or it's clients. Past articles can be found at www.chinatechnews.com, the Silicon Hutong Blog can be found here and David himself can be contacted at [email protected].