By Alex Marklew
Bluetooth has been shouted from the rooftops of high-tech companies around the globe, but unfortunately very few of them have taken the time to explain exactly what it is and why it is so important. Luckily CommsMEA has been keeping an eye on things, and on hand to provid a handy guide to the useful bit of kit that promises to make the world wireless.
Introduction|~||~||~|Picture this: you are under pressure; you have a complex task to do on your PC; your boss is breathing down your neck for results now. And all you can do is struggle with your mouse cord because it keeps falling down behind the desk and not giving you enough slack. The keyboard is a problem too. It is never quite where you want it because the cord is too short to allow it to be in exactly the position that you want it. Although these problems are trivial for the average desktop PC user, they are enough to occasion those acts of PC vandalism that we get to see in Internet clips from time to time.Imagine what it must be like for a Personal Data Assistant user; someone who spends most of his working life on the road and depends on his portable technology. Now the problem has become critical. If your technology does not work you may not be able to do your job properly, either at the office or, much more importantly, on the move. Overcoming The Usability ProblemThe problem started with the advent of the notebook computer and the problem of keeping data held in the office PC and the notebook synchronised. It was a positive problem to get simple files from PC to Notebook and back again. The LAN solved most of those problems once notebooks had evolved to get connected.Today’s PDA’s though are much smaller and need a neat wireless-free method of talking to other PCs, PDAs or peripherals such as printers. This was the need for which Bluetooth was born. A key problem for hand held devices is usability: the screens are too small, they don’t have keyboards but scribble pads, and these human interface issues will remain until somebody makes a speech recognition program that really works.Paddy Falls, CEO and co-founder of iOra, explains: “Users can take their handheld device and place it near their keyboard and monitor, and the keyboard, monitor and hand held will interoperate as if it were a desktop computer.” GPRSHe says that storage in these devices is also a key factor. “There is very low storage today, less than 100 Mbytes, but this is being remedied by technology already happening. IBM already ships a 340 Mbyte microdrive for handheld devices and has announced a 1 Gbyte device drive for later this year with plans for a 2 Gbyte drive. This may be exactly what Bluetooth was designed for, but the technology seems to have much application in other walks of live, particularly in the hype that surrounds the new 3rd generation of mobile phones: GPRS. Many manufacturers are visualising a PDA that is both viewphone and credit card, using both TCP/IP via the GPRS standards and Bluetooth to communicate with all sorts of devices. You could for instance have a BuyIt button on your PDA/phone that allows you to get a Coke from a machine and debits your current account with just a push of a button while you are pointing at the machine (this sounds a little simplistic, as all futurology does, but it is certainly feasible). ||**||When small problems cause big trouble|~||~||~|Bluetooth will do more for the mobile phone though. At home, your phone will be connected via Bluetooth to your DECT phone system: it’s your phone at home. As you leave the house, it becomes your mobile phone. When your phone comes in range of another phone, it could function like a walki-talky (although at 15m, perhaps you should just meet face to face!)One vision of Bluetooth’s future comes from GlobaLoop. The company says that Bluetooth can be used for a variety of purposes, potentially replacing multiple cable connections via a single radio link. “In the vision of the future, broadband connection will be supplied directly to buildings utilising a variety of technologies (satellite, wireline, wireless). Within the building itself, the existing wiring infrastructure will be utilised to supply broadband service to each independent unit (home or office) with technologies such as DSL. Within the individual home or office, communications will be delivered using short-distance, broadband wireless technologies such as Bluetooth or WLAN. Instant ConnectionsAccording GlobaLoop, “Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology that synchronises devices such as mobile PCs, mobile phones and other portables within a distance of fifteen meters. Bluetooth technology eliminates the need to buy, carry, or connect cables in order to connect a wide range of computing and telecommunications devices. It delivers opportunities for instant ad hoc connections, and the possibility of automatic, unconscious, connections between devices. What GlobaLoop is offering is Internet connectivity regardless of the access technology employed by the digital appliance. Says the company, “Whether that appliance is a laptop computer with a Bluetooth chip inside and a communication antenna, or a desktop computer using standard DSL technology or V.90, GlobaLoop provides instant and configuration-free connection to the Internet service.”A Bluetooth microchip, incorporating a radio transceiver, is built into digital devices. Bluetooth makes all connections instantly and without any cable, within a distance of up to 15 meters. It facilitates fast and secure transmissions of both voice and data, even when the devices are not within line-of-sight. The radio operates in a globally available frequency band, ensuring compatibility worldwide. Speed And SecurityThe Bluetooth technology offers speed with security. It is designed to be fully functional even in very noisy radio environments, and its voice transmissions are audible under severe conditions. The technology provides a very high transmission rate and data is protected by advanced error-correction methods, as well as encryption and authentication routines for the user's Five promoter companies originally launched the Bluetooth standard: Ericsson, IBM Corporation, Intel, Nokia and Toshiba. Other companies actively promoting Bluetooth include 3Com Corporation, Lucent, Microsoft and Motorola. Today there are over 1,800 companies within the Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group) promoting the Bluetooth standard.privacy.||**||Multiple uses|~||~||~|Independent market research organisations have recently projected the total Bluetooth market at 900 million to more than a billion units worldwide by the end of 2005. Accessories, such as headsets (for hands-free cellular phone use and handheld remote control devices for video and audio systems), cellular phones and Palm-type PDAs, are expected to be among the earliest adopters of Bluetooth technology. Industry analysts believe that printer manufacturers will begin integrating Bluetooth into their products in 2001 or 2002, and some of the first products are starting to appear.The key to Bluetooth’s success is to grow the market as rapidly as possible so that there are many Bluetooth devices to “talk” to each other. As a result, creating a mass market for Bluetooth is critical. However, fixed applications, such as those requiring access points in public facilities, offices, and homes, are expected to significantly expand market opportunities for Bluetooth technology. Potential ProblemsThe Gartner Group calls Bluetooth a Supranet—the wireless connection of data and transactions between the hard-wire Internet, wireless devices such as cell phones and PDAs, and the “papernet”—the physical world of business cards and legal documents. Emerging seamless connections will deliver a whole host of new technologies, according to Gartner, with Bluetooth becoming one of the first integral technologies tied to the Supranet.Despite all the hype, Bluetooth does have some problems. It has, according to Gartner, been shown to cut battery life of mobiles and PDAs more than expected, a definite detractor for the technology. Also, Bluetooth has to compete with the Wireless LAN standard, IEEE 802.11, which too allows any connected LAN device to go mobile. If all appliances use this standard, particularly throught the GPRS network, you will have all the connectivity you want without going anywhere near Bluetooth.||**||