Bluetooth will network any device without cables

Computing in an office environment has become undeniably network-centric. The explosion of the Internet, e-mail, and the remote storage of information makes a non-networked PC as useless as a flat football. The same is true of portable devices. Having the ability to quickly connect, check, and send e-mail; to access the file server; or to participate in an electronic meeting is a must.

Bluetooth is a wireless initiative led by Ericsson Telephone, IBM, Intel, and Nokia. The technology advocated by Bluetooth will comprise stamp-size chips that create short-range (up to about 10 metres) radio links for seamless voice and data transmission among PCs, mobile phones, and virtually any device you would hook up to the network. With promises of data-transfer speeds of up to 1Mbps, the Bluetooth transfer speed will be equivalent to DSL (digital subscriber line).

Unlike devices that use infrared beams for communications, direct line of sight will not be needed for Bluetooth devices to connect. When you walk into the office, your handheld will be capable of synchronising your daily schedule with your desktop PC while the handheld is still in your pocket. The data stream will be secured by encryption and authentication between devices, blocking would-be radio eavesdroppers from intercepting Bluetooth-standard network signals.

Many of the usage scenarios for Bluetooth will also involve one of the devices communicating over the air using WAP (Wireless Application Protocol). Many Bluetooth member companies are also WAP members, and it is expected that many future handheld wireless devices will deploy a combination of Bluetooth and WAP technology.

Bluetooth is an open specification that is governed by Bluetooth Special Interest Group. Version 1.0 was published in the second quarter of 1999, and the 2.0 release is slated for late 2000 or early 2001.

The basic contents for Bluetooth Version 1.0, including the physical layers, are a series of specification profiles designed for consumer electronics such as audiovisual equipment, automotive equipment, and printers. Most of the profiles announced have been designed merely to replace existing cables.

Twelve new profiles in 2.0 are expected to open up a wide range of new applications, including MPEG-1 (MPEG Phase-1), MP3 (Audio Layer III) players, speakers, digital still cameras, and car navigation systems. As each working group has its own schedule, it is generally expected that the individual standards will be added as each is completed. But the promise of each is simple: keeping track of scheduling, sending and receiving e-mail remotely, and pulling data down from the Web will all be as easy on a handheld device as they are with a desktop PC.

The first products meeting Bluetooth specifications should begin to appear this year, with widespread adoption of the technology within three years. As Bluetooth becomes more common, new features such as Internet access on a commuter train, business collaboration solutions for Bluetooth-connected devices, and electronic cash functionality will make it a must-have technology for all portable devices.

Future Watch: Bluetooth

Bluetooth will enable users to connect to a wide range of computing and telecommunication devices without cables. Bluetooth devices will operate in the 2.4GHz Industrial-Scientific-Medical Band, use spread spectrum, and support as many as eight devices in a 'piconet' where two or more units will share a channel. With its built-in security and non-line-of-sight transmission, Bluetooth will be regulated by governments worldwide

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