What Ails Bluetooth?

by Reads (6,989)

It’s hard to know where to begin with Bluetooth. So many articles have been written on this newly pervasive communication buzzword (see Your Guide to Wireless): what it can do, how it works, whether it will succeed. The last question, at least, seems to be answered in the positive. A range of Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones are now on the market from Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia, especially here in Europe, and we are also seeing PDAs, Compact Flash cards and USB dongles making appearances at increasingly lower price points.

Bluetooth’s attractions are obvious, and its uses are greater than at first consideration. Imagine: no more precarious balancing of phone and PDA on one’s knee to maintain a decent IR link; faster transfer speeds than IR, serial or parallel connections; the ability to sync a PDA and phone with Outlook on the desktop, and, most attractively, wireless internet on your PDA without removing your phone from your pocket or cradling your handheld to hook it to the landline. For once, here is a technology that has caught the imagination of both tech-lovers and the wider public. Even Bluetooth fridges and televisions are on their way, we are told (see Bluetooth in Action). With such high-profile backers as Nokia, Ericsson, TDK, Sony, Toshiba and HP, this is a protocol that is non-proprietary and has enough commercial clout to force its way into the public arena.

Yet here is a technology that still has problems, especially in its relationship with Pocket PCs. Read Brighthand’s popular iPAQ discussion forum and you’ll find a plethora of threads devoted to getting Bluetooth working between a PPC and phone, or coaxing a stubborn Activesync to do its job over what should simply be seen as a serial port. The wonder-technology of easy, cable-replacing fun seems to be causing even more headaches than 802.11b, which is perceived as less plug-‘n’-play and more in the realm of sysadmins. What is even more mysterious is how a supposed standard does not appear to be in any way standardised. Users seem to have little trouble getting TDK Bluetooth products to work, while those from other manufacturers seem to have more gremlins. We needn’t really mention the horrors of the iPAQ 3870’s poorly-implemented Bluetooth stack.

Having decided to "go Blue," I recently purchased a Bluetooth-enabled Ericsson T68 cellular telephone. A Bluetooth Compact Flash card and USB dongle are on its way, and hopefully I’ll be syncing phone, PDA and desktop with ease by the end of the week. Yes, like many others, I love the idea of Bluetooth, and its promise of a world free of wires and cords. PDAs talking to cellphones are just the start.

However, to really take off, Bluetooth has to become more stable. Without the ease of connectivity of infrared or a cable, less tech-savvy users will no doubt be dissuaded from reaping its full benefits. There is also a price issue to consider, especially when compared to other wireless technologies, such as 802.11b. Although Bluetooth is demonstrably not a rival of 802.11b – one is a cable-replacement, one is a WLAN protocol – many people perceive it as such, and their functions do overlap somewhat. As of now, the two technologies are comparable in price, and if anything, Bluetooth is more expensive. This must change if Bluetooth is to become a regular and acceptable communications standard and not a toy for gadget-lovers and executives alone. 


Anthony Newman is a third-year English student at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. He is also a Pocket PC enthusiast with an interest in wireless technologies.

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