Communications: Bluetooth

Jan. 7, 2002
Bluetooth Is Here To Stay, Despite The Pundits' Reservations BLUETOOTH WAS PROBABLY THE MOST OVER-HYPED communications technology last year. The pundits ripped it apart until prospective users began to doubt its...
Bluetooth Is Here To Stay, Despite The Pundits' Reservations Bluetooth was probably the most over-hyped communications technology last year. The pundits ripped it apart until prospective users began to doubt its veracity. While a little hype is good for any new technology, Bluetooth was blown way out of proportion. Potential users were set up for a disappointment from the beginning.

In phase one, companies and the Bluetooth SIG promoted Bluetooth as the solution to many wireless and networking problems. Then when it took most manufacturers a year or so to get real silicon out the door, phase two kicked in. The media blasted Bluetooth as not living up to its promise.

Criticism cited insufficient speed and range, high power consumption, too much interference in the 2.4-GHz band, and a need for system designers using Bluetooth chips to know RF technology. Moreover, critics saw Bluetooth's cost as too high and the design of its complex baseband/stack structure as software, not hardware.

These are valid criticisms. Manufacturers and the Bluetooth SIG have taken notice and are attempting to address these problems. Furthermore, many of these problems stem from a misconception of what Bluetooth is and what it was intended for. Although some have criticized its use for home networking, it really wasn't designed for that purpose. It was designed for personal-area networks (PANs).

The wireless LAN/PAN market segment has been sliced and diced into so many different and overlapping technologies that making a choice for a given application is more difficult than necessary. There's IEEE 802.11b, 802.11a, and the newly approved 802.11g extension of 802.11b. HomeRF is still in there, but running way behind 802.11b for home networking.

In the PAN segment is Bluetooth, but don't forget that IrDA is still around and a great choice for some applications. A newer contender in the PAN area is magnetic induction wireless. On the horizon are several new alternatives worth considering. These include ZigBee and Ultra Wideband (UWB). Each fits its own niche. Every one might not compete with Bluetooth. You will hear more about these in the coming year. For now, give Bluetooth the benefit of the doubt.

When approaching a wireless application, first, be positive about Bluetooth. Second, consider the massive base of next-generation hardware, software, and expertise now available. Third, remember that Bluetooth is a niche product. Take it for what it is, but at least give it a chance.

Look for Bluetooth to serve as a low-cost replacement for wireless networks based on the IrDA standards.

Bluetooth will soon accelerate hands-free cell-phone communications. It will also have an impact on wireless communications between cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) and laptop computers.

Expect Bluetooth to serve as a link for data transfers between PDAs to PCs and laptop computers.

Soon, the connection between your PC and printer won't require a cable, thanks to Bluetooth.

Bluetooth can be expected to serve automotive communications, both internally and externally.

Bluetooth will shine where there's a need for a short-range personal LAN with ad hoc connectivity and/or mobility.

Consumer audio connectivity—headsets, remote speakers, stereo components, and remote control—will benefit from Bluetooth.

A surprising application for Bluetooth, besides personal uses, will be in short-range industrial telemetry.

Consumer applications, such as wireless cameras, camcorders, and security systems, will also see more Bluetooth applications.

Bluetooth will additionally serve to link access points in home networks.

See associated timeline.

About the Author

Louis E. Frenzel

Click here to find more of Lou's articles on Electronic Design. 

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