Cutting the device cables with Bluetooth

By Kevin Railsback, InfoWorld |  Networking

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 research report, volume chip prices were as high as $15 each in mid-2000, and they're expected to fall to $7.50 this year and as low as $2 by 2005. As these prices go down, hardware companies will begin to adopt Bluetooth en masse.

Bluetooth basics

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.

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