(02/20/2001) – Bluetooth (named for Viking King Harald Bluetooth from 10th century Denmark who united and Christianized Denmark and Norway during his reign) is a short-range wireless networking standard that allows all manner of devices to communicate and transfer information.
For example, with a Bluetooth-enabled laptop and PDA, scheduling and contact information can be synchronized on the fly, without having to connect cables or align an infrared port. Because Bluetooth facilitates voice communication as well as data transmission, a Bluetooth-enabled headset can connect wirelessly with a cell phone or cordless phone, easing the user’s movement and eliminating the need for wires to connect the devices.
One of the primary benefits of Bluetooth is that manufacturers can incorporate it into many devices without having to design a special chipset. The Bluetooth chipset includes all of the components needed for Bluetooth connectivity, making the integration by device vendors an easy one. Although Bluetooth has been slow to catch on, widespread implementation is expected by 2002.
The main factor limiting Bluetooth adoption by hardware manufacturers has been cost. But prices are falling. According to a June 2000 Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. research report, volume chip prices were as high as CDN$23 each in mid-2000, and they’re expected to fall to $11.25 this year and as low as $3 by 2005. As these prices go down, hardware companies will begin to adopt Bluetooth en masse.
The network formed by connecting Bluetooth devices is called a piconet. Several of these piconets can be linked, increasing bandwidth and allowing devices to communicate.
Security concerns were paramount in the design of the Bluetooth standard. Built-in encryption and authentication between devices ensure that others cannot eavesdrop on your Bluetooth network. Also bolstering security is adaptive radio power usage. Bluetooth devices alter their transmission power in accordance with the distance between them, significantly reducing the range of the radio transmission when possible.
Bluetooth operates in the 2.4GHz range, similar to many late-model cordless phones. The normal range for Bluetooth devices is 10 meters, but it can be extended as far as 100 meters. With a raw data rate of 1Mbps, the standard is not designed to replace high-bandwidth LANs, although Bluetooth-enabled wireless LAN products are available.
Bluetooth will eventually change the way we use our cell phones, PDAs, laptops, and other digital devices. With a solid and secure basic technology, and support for a broad range of devices, the Bluetooth wireless standard promises to proliferate connections between devices and to render cable hassles a thing of the past.
Bluetooth PC Card
Dimensions: (in centimeters) 5.4 by 11.5 by .5
Weight: 1.25 ounces
Vendor: IBM Corp.
Phone: (888) 746-7426
Devices accessible through Internet Explorer or a Bluetooth-specific interface
Applications use legacy communication stacks
Only supports Windows 95 OSR2, Windows 98/Me/2000
SECURITY AND MANAGEMENT
How much security do you need on a 30-foot network? Probably not that much, but IBM’s Bluetooth PC Card supports a range of Bluetooth security levels, from complete obscurity to complete openness. The Bluetooth Neighborhood application provides A simplified user interface that should do the job until Bluetooth features are integrated into the forthcoming Windows XP (formerly called Whistler).
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Bluetooth PC Card from IBM is a very good choice for companies looking to begin working with Bluetooth networking, due in no small part to IBM’s obsession with documentation and user friendliness. Even users unfamiliar with Bluetooth concepts can manage basic tasks with Bluetooth Neighborhood, an application that provides a single interface for managing Bluetooth devices. Although clearly an interim solution, the easy-to-use interface makes file transfers and synchronization functions effortless.
— P.J. Connolly
BlueConnect for Handspring Visor Development Kit
Dimensions: (in centimeters) 5.4 by 7.2 by .7
Weight: .89 ounces
Cost: $7500; individual BlueConnects should retail for about $224
Vendor: Widcomm Inc.
Phone: (858) 453-8400
Easy installation and configuration
Environment for developing Bluetooth-enabled Palm OS applications provided
Visor handhelds, cradles, and BlueConnect units included in development kit
Development kit offers only BlueConnect prototypes
SECURITY AND MANAGEMENT
Bluetooth’s native security levels are supported in the BlueConnect Development Kit. But we found the protocol’s implementation of the client/server model limiting, as it required us to shift the configurations of devices between client and server modes depending on the tasks we wished to perform. With peer-to-peer technology shaping up, Bluetooth developers will have to adapt this new paradigm to the existing client/server standard.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Although we don’t expect to see BlueConnect units on the market until this summer, companies wishing to experiment with Bluetooth on handheld devices can get a leg up on the competition with Widcomm’s BlueConnect Development Kit. It includes all of the hardware and software a development team could use, including a pair of Handspring Visors with cradles, a BlueConnect for each Visor, software tools, and copious printed documentation.
— P.J. Connolly
Kevin Railsback is the acting director of the InfoWorld Test Center. He can be reached at [email protected]
Prices listed are in Cdn currency.