Bluetooth is almost here! –

Are you tired of fussing with cables that connect your mouse, PalmPilot, keyboard, headphones, and modem? I do most of my work on a laptop computer, and it's annoying to reconnect cables as I move from airplanes to hotels and from home to office.

New products based on the de facto Bluetooth standard will soon free us from cables through low-cost, short-range radio transceivers.

Bluetooth provides:

  • 1 Mbps data rate.
  • Three voice channels.
  • Short range (30 feet) connectivity.
  • Low-cost OEM modules. At $20 now, costs will probably fall to $5 by 2001.
  • Small form factor. OEM modules measure 10.2 X 14 X 1.6 mm.
  • Encryption and authentication built into the specification.
  • Transmission in the 2.4 GHz radio frequency band using frequency hopping spread spectrum.
  • Automatic connection between Bluetooth devices within range.

Those features enable Bluetooth to provide a wireless personal area network. Consider the following uses:

  • Wireless connections between a laptop, mobile telephone, and headset for integrating data and voice messaging.
  • Wireless computer peripherals, such as wireless mouse, keyboard, and telephone connection, making it easier to move and set up portable computers.
  • Wireless Webcams, enabling you to place cameras anywhere within a room.
  • Wireless handheld bar code scanners.
  • Portable computers that can wirelessly connect to your desktop computer to synchronize schedules, documents, and to do lists.
  • Wireless connections between your computer and printer.

While all that sounds exciting, don't expect to purchase Bluetooth consumer products today or within the next few months. Initial products with Bluetooth transceivers should become available toward the end of 2000, and a barrage of Bluetooth products should hit the market throughout 2001.

Companies are going through the product certification process. First, they must submit products for approval from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, which publishes the standard. They must then receive regulatory approval to sell a product.

The Bluetooth SIG includes 3Com, Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Lucent, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, and Toshiba. Thousands of other companies plan to adopt Bluetooth into their product lines.

The Bluetooth SIG published Version 1.0 of the specification in mid-1999. In late 2000 or early 2001, the SIG will release Version 2.0, which includes more usage profiles and better performance.

Ericsson was the first company to finish the approval process, culminating in the release of its Bluetooth Module, a transceiver that manufacturers can embed within their products to provide Bluetooth connectivity.

Does Bluetooth have a competitor? Because of its short-range connectivity, Bluetooth products don't compete directly with IEEE 802.11 wireless LANs. Bluetooth's primary competitor is IrDA, the Infrared Data Association, which publishes standards for infrared signals. Infrared limits connections to direct line of sight orientation between transceivers. There's no worry about RF interference using IrDA devices, but the line-of-sight operation makes it inappropriate for most truly mobile applications.

How should you plan for Bluetooth? As more and more wireless products become available, carefully manage potential frequency interference. Tests have shown significant interference between Bluetooth and other systems operating in the 2.4 GHz band, such as IEEE 802.11 wireless LANs. To reduce chances of interference, take a look at an article I wrote on the interference potential between Bluetooth and 802.11.

I'll keep you posted as Bluetooth products become available. For now I recommend that you start planning possible applications and consider ways to minimize RF interference.

Next time we'll begin looking at wireless wide area networks.

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