I just got a Toyota RAV4 with integrated Bluetooth. I can now drive around town and automatically shut my radio off when I have an incoming call or dial by name from my dashboard. I can call a business associate from my cell phone "hands free" and let him or her know I’ve run into traffic and will be late.

Yes, Bluetooth, which took years to get catch on, seems to be reaching a tipping point.  You can tell because even mid-priced automobiles now incorporate it. Thus it has become a telecommunications tool for small and mid-size business people -- not just a luxury technology for Fortune 500 executives anymore.

Bluetooth technology has been around for a dozen years.  For much of that time it was an obscure technology that not many people used.  According to research firm IC Insights, shipments of Bluetooth were virtually nil as recently as the year 2000. 

We should not be surprised by the slow uptake. It's got an unusual name, which is hardly descriptive. Most people I know had no clue what Bluetooth actually was for the longest time -- and were afraid to ask.  And until recently, there was also the issue of the price. I actually had Bluetooth in my BMW back in my corporate days (now I’m an entrepreneur and these days can only afford Toyotas).  But back then it was a super expensive option -- almost $2,000 and had to be special ordered and took months to get. 

In the last year or two, that seems to have changed.  Suddenly Bluetooth is everywhere you look.  The trend is expected to continue with Bluetooth becoming even more ubiquitous.  According to IC Insights, shipments of Bluetooth are forecast to rise 47 percent during 2007

Bluetooth is a wireless technology.  It is commonly used to let you access your cell phone with a wireless headset. 

All those people sitting in airports and standing in checkout lines appearing to talk to thin air – no, they’re probably not Secret Service agents.  They are just using Bluetooth.  If you look closely, you’ll see they’ve got small Bluetooth earpieces over one ear. 

Bluetooth has other uses besides the cell phone.  For instance, you can use it for a wireless headset to listen to music, or to wirelessly connect a mouse to a laptop.  It has a fairly short distance range – six to 30 feet is typical. Essentially it creates a wireless cloud around a small area.

Bluetooth is a great liberator for entrepreneurs and business owners.  It takes the mobile convenience of the cell phone to the next level.  A Bluetooth headset is not nearly as unwieldy as a corded headset for your phone.  With your phone on your desk, you can move around in your office easily.  You will still have your hands free to take notes or look up important information on your computer.  Clip your phone to your belt or on your purse and you can be anywhere and conduct business.

One of the most interesting places where Bluetooth is showing up is in the car. With hands-free Bluetooth integration in your car, and features such as dial by name capability programmed into your phone, you can even call that client while on the road to let him or her know you’ve run into traffic and will be late.

Today, even mid-priced automobiles like my Toyota RAV4 come with integrated Bluetooth to allow you to talk hands free using the car’s stereo speakers.  You can buy a variety of Bluetooth aftermarket car kits, too.

Why is Bluetooth seemingly everywhere all of a sudden?  Several factors:

  1. Today the public is more aware of the dangers of trying to drive a car while holding a cell phone in one hand.  Some might argue that the driver is still distracted with a hands-free phone, but at least both hands are on the wheel.   
  2. Bluetooth chipset technology has dropped in price, making Bluetooth devices more affordable.
  3. The technology has improved, working seamlessly with more cell phones and other electronic devices.  It’s more secure.  There are now smaller wireless headsets, and more choices. Many of the world’s major electronics manufacturers, such as Motorola, offer Bluetooth products.  You can even buy such interesting gadgets as Bluetooth sunglasses.

And with prices that continue to drop, Bluetooth is affordable even for startup entrepreneurs on a tight budget.  A brand-name Bluetooth headset can be purchased for as little as $30.  Factory-installed Bluetooth capability in a new car goes for as little as a few hundred dollars in some models.

For more information about Bluetooth capability in cars read the Bluetooth report in Edmunds

So get over the strange name, and check into Bluetooth from your local wireless phone provider.  Oh -- and the next time you go car shopping, put Bluetooth capability on your list of must-have features.

Anita Campbell is a writer, speaker and radio talk show host who closely follows trends in the small business market at her site, Small Business Trends.