Bluetooth bites 802.11, comes up empty

Members of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group have developed a version of the wireless standard that includes IEEE 802.11, but some analysts see this as a somewhat useless stop-gap before the much-anticipated ultra-wideband finally goes widespread.

Equipment makers have released several devices using both 802.11 and Bluetooth, said Mike Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

In an e-mail to ComputerWorld Canada, he wrote: “In this case, it makes sense to leverage the work we have already done with UWB to work with 802.11 in the same way.”

This would allow users to shift larger data streams over Bluetooth; this practice would require a device that is both Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-enabled.

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“The primary advantage of moving forward with this strategy is that the roadmap for many products in the next two years where Bluetooth is present, 802.11 is also present or being considered,” Foley wrote. “The availability of Bluetooth in a device that contains an 802.11 radio translates to efficiency for both the manufacturer and the consumer.” This set-up calls into question its actual usefulness, said Info-Tech Research Group analyst Mark Tauschek.

“When it comes to big data streams, I have a hard time thinking of why you would want to use Bluetooth instead of just using the Wi-Fi on there.”

This could lead to a low uptake rate, since users might just be content to transfer big data packets over WiFi until ultra-wideband becomes available to them, according to ABI Research senior analyst Doug McEuen. He said, “People can see ultra-wideband coming down the road, so they might not want to bother.”

There are technical issues to contend with as well that might delay the new 802.11 enough that ultra-wideband would be right upon us, negating the need for the stop-gap solution. These include the smoothness of the interoperability between the Bluetooth radio frequency and the WiFi radio frequency protocol stacks.

“You would have to have those two radios and then authenticate on the WiFi network as well. You might run into frequency issues—typically they play well together, but they still step on each other from time to time,” said Tauschek.

Only the least-vigilant of IT managers need worry about the havoc these WiFi devices might bring into their enterprise. Even if one of these devices enters the perimeter, a well-protected network shouldn’t face any threat, according to Tauschek. “With a wireless LAN, you already have authentication and encryption as long as you have basic security in place with at least WPA2 for 802.11. Those devices aren’t going to be able to just hop on the network with having to authenticate,” he said.

Foley said the high speed specification will also include some security enhancements. He wrote in an e-mail: “The Bluetooth core specifications are written with several required and optional security features and include an encryption which has never been broken.

Most publicized security issues have been the result of implementation issues not related to the specification itself, but the specific product design. Bluetooth technology is extremely secure.”