Mumbai: Stroll around Bangalore’s The Forum Mall with the bluetooth feature activated on your mobile phone and you could receive a multitude of messages flashing discounts, offers and advertisements from the stores in the mall.

Forum turned into a bluetooth ‘hotspot’ three months ago. Malls across Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune are following suit, deploying bluetooth-enabled servers to reach out to customers in a more direct and personal way than a loudspeaker and a stage in the public mall area.

Bluetooth is a technology specification for wireless communication. And bluecasting, a term used to describe direct marketing using bluetooth-enabled servers, is not new to India.

Until now, however, it has been used in a limited fashion, mostly by brands targeting the youth segment of the market. Now, bluetooth solution providers are trying to build scale for the technology with a number of applications. Wiring up malls is one of them. Companies such as Bangalore-based Telibrahma Convergent Communications Pvt Ltd, Dubai-based Outbox-Marketing Redefined Pvt Ltd and Delhi-based are turning entire malls into hotspots, creating a single access point for tenants to market their diverse offerings to mall goers.

“We have seen an increased footfall of visitors over the last three months," says Kirit Merani, pan-South India franchisee for the Archies Gallery. Sales at the store in The Forum Mall went up by 18 % last month, he says.

Telibrahma, which worked on the bluetooth infrastructure for Forum mall, has installed eight terminals at various points, with a centralized server to manage and distribute messages for different tenants. Each store pays the mall a fixed fee per day. Forum has entered into a three-way revenue share agreement with Telibrahma and its media buying arm Theme.

The service provider is now creating a loyalty programme for stores, where frequent visitors win special discounts. “We maintain records of number of visits by a user by tracking the unique bluetooth identifier on their handset," says Suresh Narasimha, CEO, Telibrahma. Phoneytunes, meanwhile, is testing out in-store navigation along with marketing, at Pune’s Shipra Mall using bluetooth kiosks at the mall entrance. A user searching for a particular store will receive a message with directions and a map to guide him.

The flipside of marketing using bluetooth is that users’ handsets may be prone to mobile viruses. Cabir, released as a proof of concept virus in 2004, spread to handsets via bluetooth. In UK, where bluecasting was first introduced, marketers also faced consumer backlash for spamming. However, this has not deterred Indian companies from growing the bluetooth business.

“What we have is a permission-based marketing tool. Users can choose to receive or reject the message," defends Niyaz Mohammed, managing director, Outbox-Marketing Redefined. The company, which provided bluetooth infrastructure for Nirmal Lifestyle, is in talks with retail chains such as Mocha and the Future Group, of which Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd is a part.

As a wireless technology, Bluetooth is often used instead of cable. With a typical range of 10 feet, it is commonly used for short range data transfers -- such as songs or images – from mobile to mobile, or mobile to PC. In addition, advertisers such as Lee Jeans and Idea Cellular Ltd have worked with mobile marketing companies such as Mobile2Win India Pvt Ltd, GroupM, Inc and ActiveMedia Technology Ltd. for short-term campaigns at malls and retail chains over the last year.

But companies are now looking beyond peer-to-peer applications and one-off campaigns to grow. In fact, the technology is finding several applications in the retail space.

Phoneytunes, for example, has deployed bluetooth kiosks at 38 Sony Ericsson retail outlets across the country to allow users to download ringtones, wallpapers and songs. The kiosk resembles an ATM machine – the user selects the song or image from the on-screen menu and feeds money into a slot. The kiosk then sends out the selected song to the user’s cell phone. Phoneytunes is in talks with telecom operators to deploy similar kiosks in customer care centres.

Another scalable model is the deployment of bluetooth-enabled mobile printers. The small, handheld devices receive data from a cell phone, and give instant printouts. Telibrahma has sold 280 such devices worth Rs40,000 each, to the Bangalore Traffic Police. The traffic police will be equipped with Blackberry handsets that communicate with a central information server to get real time information such as the driver’s name, address and past offenses. A policeman can select type of offense and print out the ticket on the bluetooth printers.

“We have tested the system in the Cubbon Park area with favourable results. It saves the trouble of manually writing out tickets and maintains better records," says N Narasimhaiah, ACP (Traffic Planning), Bangalore Traffic Police. The mobile printers will be deployed across the city by end-October. The company is also in talks with authorities to deploy the devices across Delhi, Jaipur, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and in major South Indian cities.

Consumer applications for bluetooth are also picking up. Bangalore-based Motvik Technologies Pvt Ltd, for instance, has developed a mobile application called Webcam Where I Go (WWIGO), which turns the camera on the user’s mobile into a webcam. The camera communicates with the PC using bluetooth, so users can walk around holding the cell phone, instead of using a webcam wired to the computer. Since the application went beta in June, WWIGO has been downloaded 40,000 times and sees an average of 500 downloads per day.

“We have tracked downloads in 125 countries, with the highest in India and Italy," says Thiyagarajan M, co-founder, Motvik. Another consumer product gaining popularity is wireless headsets powered by bluetooth. Motorola Inc has introduced some 10 models of wireless headsets for mobile phones and audio devices.

The future of bluetooth lies in higher data speeds and lower power consumption. Motorola Software Group, Motorola’s R&D center for software in Bangalore, is working on several such future technologies. Bluetooth 3.0, the latest standard that wireless companies are working on, promises extremely fast data transfers. Standards 2.0 and 2.1, the latest in use currently, offer data rates of about 1 Mbps (mega bit per second).

“Bluetooth 2.0 was about enhanced data rates, 2.1 was about pairing bluetooth devices better. But 3.0 is about high speed, it could even be 130 times higher than current data rates," says Uma Seetharaman, Senior Operations Manager, Motorola Software Group.

Companies are also working on Ultra Low Power Bluetooth. In this version, the technology can be integrated into small devices which run on low-powered batteries –wristwatches, for instance. This could lead to a slew of healthcare and sports accessories, predicts Seetharaman. For example, a jogger could monitorhis heart rate, transfer the data to his cell phone via bluetooth and simultaneously send the data to a trainer or physician using a GPRS connection.