Time to kill Bluetooth

Wi-Fi Direct works with existing WLANs, links devices without routers

Networking is complicated enough; wireless networking is worse.

Conflicting signals, odd dead spots, hundreds of access points to keep running and patched and powered up. Then end users bring in appliances, accessories, junk that connect supposedly to just their own machines via Bluetooth, but actually scramble things for everyone around them, just a little bit, every time they pass by or re-link a connected device.

Networks running on multiple protocols are far more complex to maintain, troubleshoot and keep secure because ever additional protocol adds another set of potential bottlenecks or points of conflict. That's why Ethernet over TCP/IP became not only standard, but almost the only networking standard used within wired corporate networks, rather than TokenRing, ATM or a dozen other relics.

Which is why I could never figure out why Bluetooth made sense for anything but making people look demented standing on the corner, talking loudly to no one on invisible Bluetooth headsets.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is pushing a successor, or adjunct, to regular WiFi networks.

Wi-Fi Direct is a protocol designed to be backward-compatible with wireless networks, but allows devices equipped with it to connect directly to another device using the same kind of ad hoc connections your laptop tries to make with Free Wireless Network in airports. In that way is fills the same niche, with more consistent and capable technology, than Bluetooth.

Current versions of WiFi require every device to connect to a switch or router, making each a separate node on the network rather than accessories linked to a single device.

It's also designed to be easy to make connections and turn on or off the local hub functionality, so users would know when they're making one-to-one connections with other devices and when they're not.

The range is greater, so the potential for abuse is as well, if users are unaware of when they're broadcasting promiscuously. The same VPNs, encryption and other security approaches that work (often) adequately for existing WLANs should work for Wi-Fi Direct as well, making migration theoretically simple.

If you're talking physical connections, Intel announced at CES that a new high-speed protocol called Light Peak to link displays and hard drives as a replacement for things currently using USB.

Despite all the security problems with USB, the enormous installed base and market inertia both from users comfortable with it and phonemakers standardizing on it will make it hard to replace, even if it does run on copper now instead of your own personal strand of fiber.

Neither one is in the Offing. LG Electronics demonstrated Wi-Fi Direct on its upcoming Optimus Black Android phone at CES.

Far more flexible and useful is Wi-Fi Direct, a Wi-Fi Alliance specification demonstrated on an LG Electronics smartphone at CES last week.

The Optimus Black Android phone uses the short-distance WiFi protocol to connect itself to many devices directly, rather than going through an access point or router, as other WiFi would require.

The Wi-Fi Alliance began testing and certifying Wi-Fi Direct chipsets last October, though, so it won't be long before it starts showing up in higher-end laptops, phones and other devices.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Standardizer.)

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