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Is it worthwhile to look at Bluetooth for the office?

There is a lot of hype regarding Wi-Fi (of which I know very little) and the superiority of the 802.11a and b technology.

Where does it leave Bluetooth? Is it worthwhile to look at Bluetooth when replacing laptops, printers and scanners for personal and small office applications? Is it not a matter of Bluetooth becoming obsolete as soon as the R & D costs have been recovered?

Bluetooth was developed as a cord replacement technology, connecting peripherals like headphones, printers, keyboards, and cameras over wireless. Most Bluetooth devices today reach about 30 feet.

Wi-Fi was developed as a local area network technology, connecting workgroups of computers to an adjacent wired network through an access point. Most Wi-Fi LANs have a radius of no more than 300 feet per access point.

In principal, it would be handy to use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi together. For example, use Bluetooth to connect your PDA to your printer, your phone to an earpiece, your mouse to your PC. Then use Wi-Fi to connect your PCs to an access point that enables access to the Internet. Unfortunately there's a catch -- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi use the same 2.4 GHz radio band in an incompatible manner. Standards bodies are working on ways to overcome this, but right now it's not a good idea to try to use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in exactly the same place.

Where this picture gets a little fuzzy is when you start looking at Bluetooth access points. Yes, these devices do exist, and they fulfill the same role as a Wi-Fi access point -- connecting a group of devices together to create a small network. Of course, the devices must be very close together, and currently they would share less bandwidth than is available in a Wi-Fi LAN. In short, Bluetooth can be stretched to overlap with the low end of what Wi-Fi was designed to do.

It is not a matter of one technology being superior to the other, but more a question of using the technology most appropriate for your business application. You can stuff a tree into your car trunk or tie it to your car's roof, but it's just easier to haul a tree home from a nursery in the back of a pick-up truck. On the other hand, most of us don't really want to drive a pick-up truck when we're heading out for a fancy dinner. Buy Bluetooth devices and adapters when you want to interconnect peripherals without cords and you won't be disappointed. I don't think Bluetooth will become obsolete for those applications anytime soon. Wi-Fi still isn't a really a very good choice for embedding in cordless earpieces, keyboards, and cameras -- small peripherals that you just want to connect without fuss.

 

This was last published in August 2003

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