Upgrades to Follow Bluetooth Adoption

Although industry observers are predicting high rates of adoption for Bluetooth wireless solutions, those closest to the technology admit there is still much work to be done before Bluetooth performs at its optimum level.

A key issue has been the coexistence of Bluetooth with other wireless LAN and PAN (personal area network) technologies, specifically the 802 family of standards, which operates on the same 2.4GHz ISM (Industrial, Scientific, and Medical) band as Bluetooth.

U.S. Federal Communications Commission guidelines allow frequency sharing on the ISM band on the condition that certain devices, such as Bluetooth, remain flexible and hop frequencies to avoid collisions with other transmissions.

But according to Simon Ellis, the marketing chairman for the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), collisions between Bluetooth transmissions and, for example, 802.11 transmissions, still occur. These pileups cause "performance degradation in the 15 percent range," Ellis said.

The question of which governing body takes the lead in resolving the coexistence issue is simple enough.

The Bluetooth developers form the specification for the wireless technology, then the IEEE forms a broader, more detailed draft standard from the Bluetooth spec.

"We are dependent on them," said Ian Gifford, vice chair of the IEEE task group. "Our standard is based on their spec. When they turn left, we turn left."

Recently, the IEEE took the most current Bluetooth spec and established the 802.15.1 standard. That standard, in any given device, can coexist with Bluetooth transmissions, according to Ellis.

Why didn't the two groups merge their specifications into one working solution?

"Their objectives are different," Ellis explained. "Bluetooth is an industry group; the IEEE is a standards body, so their mission is to create industry standards. The Bluetooth mission is to deliver products."

And deliver products they will. Martin Reynolds, a vice president and research fellow at DataQuest Inc., based in Stamford, Conn., expects "a flood of new Bluetooth devices by early next year."

But according to Bluetooth SIG's Ellis, Bluetooth has two to five years of development left.

The next draft standard, 802.15.2, will concentrate on more intelligent avoidance mechanisms to prevent devices that are transmitting across the ISM band from colliding, Ellis said.

The draft standard that will follow, 802.15.3, will deal with performance issues, which could take Bluetooth into the 5GHz range, Ellis said.

And then there's the question of security, because Bluetooth devices are designed to constantly roam and could synchronize with unauthorized devices.

"[Bluetooth] vendors don't have to implement security," Reynolds warns. "So it's important to check to make sure security is in place."

"Security is the one piece you have to be curious about, but if that's your only problem you have a pretty promising upside," said Jeffrey Misenti, director of Internet application development at Suretrade, in Lincoln, R.I. "As I look at it, [Bluetooth] is something to be investing in today."

Misenti feels that while Bluetooth and the 802 family may not be "compatible today, the devices will all adapt."

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