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Bluetooth in the enterprise

What is the enterprise application for Bluetooth? I see a lot about it in personal computing, but I'm wondering if this technology is useful in the real world of my office.
Bluetooth does indeed have a lot of applications and use with in enterprise environments. However, it is important to understand that although it is essentially a low-power wireless technology, Bluetooth is not positioned as a wireless infrastructure or replacement to other more powerful wireless technologies such as 802.11 and wider area cellular networks. Rather, Bluetooth is simply designed to eliminate the myriad of cables and connections that link your office PCs, printers, fax machines and other devices. It is also a very effective technology for establishing connections between mobile devices in the filed to accomplish necessary synchronizations to exchange data with server systems. In the office, for example, you can use Bluetooth-equipped notebook computers to send a document to a nearby Bluetooth-equipped printer.

You might also use that same notebook to connect to an Bluetooth LCD projector for presentations, and then share that document and other material with other systems within the same area. Bluetooth connections can also be used to share virtual business cards, calendar information and files among small groups of users; and can even be used remotely to gather information from public access points and wireless kiosks. Bluetooth also being incorporated into cell phones, remote control devices, electronic keys, electronic wallets and in security badges to monitor employee access and activities.

Since Bluetooth has a very limited "bubble" of wireless communications -- about 10 meters or so -- it does offer some inherent security capabilities since transfers and connections can be limited to a defined space. Other advantages of the technology include its ability to automatically recognize and connect with peripherals, thereby eliminating the need to install specific drivers, and its worldwide compatibility, which means the Bluetooth standard is the same wherever you go in this world.

Since nothing in this world is perfect, Bluetooth does have some limitations and theoretical problems. For example, the technology is a lot slower than 11M bit/second 802.11b, or its much faster 802.11a cousin, so it shouldn't be considered a replacement for these technologies. In fact, if you just want to exchange files among users, then you probably don't need Bluetooth at all, since 802.11 wireless networks win this contest hands down. Bluetooth also operates on the unlicensed 2.4GHz communications spectrum, along with a lot of other devices like garage door remotes and cordless phones. So, there is the possibility of some interference or degradation in performance if there are a lot of similar signals bouncing about. There is also some question concerning the interference levels of 802.11 and Bluetooth systems when they are positioned too close to one another -- although there are some notebook manufacturers that have successfully installed both technologies in the same system, and PCMCIA card makers who offer dual-mode cards.

The bottom line is that Bluetooth is a very reliable technology for replacing the tangle of cables between printers, keyboards, mice and other peripherals -- and that is a good thing no matter how you look at it.
This was last published in May 2003

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