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Bluetooth: The Future of Wireless?

For the record
Science &
Bluetooh: The future of wireless?
Information Technology in Pakistan
Farzana Panhwar

From Diana J. Choyce
Jan 03 - 16, 2000

Now that Y2k worries are behind them, hopefully, technology companies will be focusing on all the research and development that was stalled while they prepared for the millennium. Monies and time that were spent on Y2k issues will now be transferred to these projects. One technology on the mind of many companies is Bluetooth. Bluetooth is a new wireless protocol project that is getting a large amount of press. And if expectations run true, it could change the way we do a lot of things both online and off.

Up until now units were linked by either a cable or by line of sight infrared beams. Both of these methods can be a burden between carrying extra cable or having to line up the beams for good contact. Bluetooth is the code name for a technology specification for small low-cost, short range radio links between mobile PCs, mobile phones and other portable devices. It allows users to connect without having to worry about additional modems, cables, or other connection devices. In theory it will allow total coordination of fixed and mobile devices. Basically, each device will be equipped with a low cost microchip that transmits in the 2.45 GHz frequency that is not now being used. With some variations it is available in most all countries. Along with data it will also have three voice channels available. Each device will have a unique 48 bit address and the maximum transmit range is 10 meters. Data can be exchanged at a rate of 1 megabit per second and up to 2 megabits as the technology grows.

Ericsson, IBM Corporation, Intel Corporation, Nokia and Toshiba Corporation are the five founding companies for the technology that was introduced two years ago. In December of 1999 they announced that 3Com Corporation, Lucent Technologies, Microsoft Corporation and Motorola Inc. have joined them to make up the Special Interest Group(SIG) that will promote the project. There is certainly a wealth of experience in these companies and that should drive this project to the forefront which is their goal. Over 1300 companies have since joined this original group in hopes of adopting the technology for their own products. It is a nice change of pace to have so many industry giants working together to advance a project of this magnitude. And in the end it will bring a great deal of innovative products to the marketplace. At times there have been various squabbles but for the most part the union is advancing nicely.

Several announcements have been made by companies for bluetooth enabled products. Some are available now and more will be put to market in 2000. In November of last year Ericsson released news of its first ever bluetooth handsfree accessory. The Bluetooth(TM) Headset is a stylish headset that connects to your mobile phone by a radio link instead of a cable. It can be used with Ericsson T28, T28 WORLD and R320 mobile phones and will be available on all GSM markets in mid 2000. Before 2002, Ericsson believes that Bluetooth will be a built-in feature in more than 100 million mobile phones, and millions of PC's, laptops, PDA's and other electronic devices. They are also developing a cellular phone that will act as a wireless modem for devices such as 3Com Corp.'s PalmPilot. Intel plans to integrate Bluetooth technology into its Pentium and StrongARM processors. Of all the members of the SIG, Intel is taking on the bulk of Bluetooth development. The company is developing hardware for use in PCs, including a radio module and a companion chip set and software, which includes Windows drivers and a communications stack.

The benefits of bluetooth are in its simplicity and low cost. The radio modules are expected to start out costing only $20.00US and thereafter dropping to as low as $5.00US. Each network can only accommodate 8 devices. But bluetooth is designed to "hop" frequencies thereby allowing many networks to operate in the same area. One problem that has to be overcome is in the area of security. An iron clad protocol needs to be developed to ensure that connections remain private. One would not want someone else to use his mobile to connect to their laptap for their email. Or to have someone hack into one's laptop and disappear with all his files. As development progress hopefully these issues will be addressed and resolved. Privacy and absolute authentication should be of paramount importance.

Future uses of this technology are almost right out of science fiction books. Imagine sitting in a business meeting with your laptop open before you. While your concentrating on the meeting your laptop goes into action dowloading email and files through your mobile from your home office. At the same time it is also busy collecting electronic business cards from all the attendees. All without any initiation on your part. Or as you enter your office, your laptop will activate the fax machine to download messages, while it tells your printer to print out you important emails, and notifies your desktop to synchronize the files from your recent meeting to the hard drive. All before you even take off your coat. It appears that this new technology, as with many others, can make our work more efficient and faster. But as with all technologies, one would hope that it won't take the place of old fashioned one to one handshakes.