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Bluetooth moves past the hype, into the enterprise

Bluetooth has already been through a cycle of hype and disappointment, which is one of the ways you can tell that the short-range wireless technology is finally ready for the big time, said Burton Group senior analyst Mike Disabato. Another indicator is a bit more concrete: With a million units shipping each month, more Bluetooth-enabled devices will have shipped by the end of the year than Wi-Fi-enabled devices.

Disabato just finished a report, "Bluetooth: Up Close and Personal Networking," that examines the growth of Bluetooth and its place in the enterprise.

In an interview with, Disabato shares some of his insight on how to manage this emerging technology.

Is Bluetooth a security concern for the enterprise?
Bluetooth has become a bit of a target, which is another way that you know it has arrived. There is a program called Red Fang that goes out and searches for Bluetooth connections to devices. The biggest security issues can be dealt with by just turning off the connection when you are not using it, so your devices are not announcing themselves to strangers. What role will Bluetooth play for enterprises?
Bluetooth will come in the door the way Palm and Pocket PC devices did. Bluetooth is an embedded feature in so many products. You will see viral adoption. It is good way for users on the road to sync their devices. It provides mobile users a level of convenience. In your report, you say Bluetooth has finally arrived. Why is that?
Bluetooth is about to out-ship Wi-Fi. Apple has adopted Bluetooth in all its PowerBooks. And Dell, IBM and Toshiba are putting it in their laptops. Sony Ericsson is putting it in all of its phones. The new Palm T3 chose Bluetooth over Wi-Fi. Bluetooth is being embedded in cars. This doesn't take place unless there is strong uptake of the technology. Are we finally over the hype phase with Bluetooth?
Yes, we are over the hype. Bluetooth is no longer trying to replace 802.11b. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group [a trade association driving Bluetooth's development] is trying to better manage vendor and user expectations.

Fast fact
The market for Bluetooth chips more than doubled in 2002.
What is a Bluetooth brick and how is that being used?
A Bluetooth brick is a battery-powered, sealed monitoring device that has sensors for keeping track of things like temperature or pressure. It can be used to monitor vats of chemicals, for instance. It usually has a Class 1 radio, so it can broadcast up to 300 feet. Using Bluetooth in a device like that can help companies save money, simply because cable would cost between $25 and $100 a foot. Bluetooth is particularly well suited to this because the devices are not sending large amounts of data, and Bluetooth uses much less power than 802.11b, so batteries will last longer. How should businesses react to all these Bluetooth devices walking through the door?
First, they need a policy that says whether employees can or can't use it. There are security ramifications of using Bluetooth. Whenever you open up a Bluetooth-enabled laptop in public, it sends out a message saying, 'Here I am.' You need to instruct employees to turn that off. There have been concerns about Bluetooth interfering with Wi-Fi, since they occupy the same RF spectrum. Is that still a problem?
There is less chance for interference with 802.11b than everyone has made out. The second generation of wireless LAN cards is more resistant to interference, unless you mount the Bluetooth and WLAN cards right on top of each other. And laptops are now using technologies that multiplex the signal, which eliminates interference problems. But Bluetooth does stomp on cordless phone signals. What's next for Bluetooth technology?
The 1.2 spec has been announced. This version will enable adaptive frequency hopping. That makes Bluetooth into a friendly radio that essentially finds out what channel other radios in its frequency are broadcasting on, and then hops around them. It will also have enhanced quality of service and faster setup speeds, as well as backwards-compatibility. Devices based on that spec should be out by the end of next year.

Things get interesting with version 2.0, which is due out a year and half after 1.2. At the high end, it can transmit data at 12 Mbps. With that throughput, you can start streaming video. So you cold use it, for example, to eliminate the rats' nest of cables at the back of your home theater.


Learn about a new tool offering both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi monitoring.

Get expert technical advice on Bluetooth in the enterprise.

Where are you seeing enterprise adoption of Bluetooth?
The health care industry is looking at it for short-range data collection for things like patient forms. There are industrial applications and vending machines, where someone servicing the machine can gather data about it using a PDA. The auto industry is using it to enable people to speak on their phones without using their hands. There are some retail applications but, for the most part, radio frequency identification (RFID) is [a] better solution there.

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