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Bluetooth stuck in the doghouse

Enterprises aren't using the Bluetooth short-range wireless technology to the extent many once predicted, but experts say there are plenty of reasons why it should take its rightful place alongside Wi-Fi.

Flowserve Corp. sees potential value in wireless applications. It is interested in wireless local area networks and is testing wireless wide area data applications. But the one wireless technology it has no interest in is Bluetooth.

Still, while Bluetooth is not likely to threaten Wi-Fi, in time it may take its place alongside it.

Just a few years ago, Bluetooth, the short-range, low-power wireless air link technology, was supposed to show up in everything from pens and keyboard to gas pumps and cars. Today, businesses seem to have little need for the technology, said David Chamberlain, research director with Cedar Knolls, N.J.-based research firm, Probe Group LLC.

Pieter Schoehuijs, director of worldwide IT infrastructure at Flowserve, a Dallas-based manufacturer of pumps, valves and other flow management products, said that there is some limited use of Bluetooth in the company's global offices. Some employees use it to sync their phones and PDAs, or as a modem for their PDA when they are on the road.

But that use is limited, and the company has no plans to dictate how employees use Bluetooth. "We have no plans to stop it or to endorse it," Schoehuijs said.

Flowserve's approach to wireless technology mirrors that of many other corporations today. While Wi-Fi and wide area networks are getting a lot of attention, most haven't adopted Bluetooth. That is, in part, because it is not really a networking technology like Wi-Fi, said Mike Disabato, an analyst with the Midvale, Utah-based research firm Burton Group.

Bluetooth and wireless LAN technologies are not competing, Disabato said, and are actually compatible.

But just because Bluetooth is not showing up on every device in the office, that is no reason to ignore it. Disabato recommends setting policies for Bluetooth, particularly since the security is so flexible. Employees should know how Bluetooth security works and be given guidelines on how to set it, he said.

Bluetooth has a range of only 30 to 150 feet. It was originally designed as a way to replace the cables that link computers with keyboards, and someday it will fill that niche, Disabato said.

It is also a useful way to sync among cell phones, laptops and PDAs. Unlike radio frequency (RF), Bluetooth does not require a line of sight between devices. So a phone in a user's pocket could act as a modem for a laptop without ever being removed from the pocket.

Though companies are mostly ignoring Bluetooth, it can offer some benefits, Chamberlain said.

With all of the varying air interfaces for wireless wide area networks, a company can spend a lot of money replacing devices and modems if it switches from a carrier using General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) to one using code-division multiple access (CDMA) 1xRTT. If employees instead used their phones as the modems for their laptops and PDAs, then switching wireless vendors would only mean replacing relatively inexpensive phones.

Bluetooth also uses much less power than Wi-Fi products, making it preferable for devices that use batteries, Chamberlain said.

Plus, it is relatively secure. Bluetooth sends the encryption key in the first packet of its transmission. So, unless a hacker is waiting to sniff out a transmission before it begins, which is unlikely, the security risks are minimal, Disabato said.

Bluetooth includes two types of security; users can choose between them based on how stringent their security requirements are. One is link security, which sets the level of encryption on the air link. The second is pairing security, which determines how high to set the bar for devices to connect with one another. At one extreme, a user must enter an identification code for every device he connects to; at the other, the device will connect to anything running Bluetooth.


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