Wireless Carriers Must Stop Crippling Bluetooth

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I’m a huge fan of Bluetooth. I use it whenever possible, and not having to tote a bunch of wires around with me has changed the way I use my handheld.

Because I’m such a fan, I’m very unhappy with a recent trend among wireless carriers to put out devices that have Bluetooth, but only in an extremely limited form.

Take the Treo 650 as an example. Although it has Bluetooth, it is lacking many of the functions one would expect in a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone.

Unlike most other phones with Bluetooth, the Treo 650 can’t be used as a wireless modem for other devices, like a laptop. This is because Sprint disabled Dial-Up Networking.

It did so because it doesn’t want people to use their cell phones as modems for their laptops. Smartphone users generally don’t use much bandwidth surfing the web because they rarely do it for long periods of time. But laptop users can take up much more bandwidth, because they tend to use the web longer. Some laptop users have even gone to exclusively accessing the Internet through their wireless carrier.

The good news is Sprint received so much negative press for this decision it has promised to release a system patch that will put DUN back in. Hopefully, it has now learned its lesson, and other wireless carriers won’t make the same mistake. But I wouldn’t count on it.

Update: I should point out that this isn’t Sprint’s official position. According to it, the implementation of DUN in the Treo 650 is buggy, and it was disabled until Sprint could put together a patch that fixed the problems. What I’ve presented here is the scuttlebutt.

Still, Sprint has shown itself in the past to being opposed to its customers using their phones as wireless modems for other devices, so I find it very suspicious that one of its first devices with Bluetooth comes with DUN disabled.

In Sprint’s defense, those who have used a third-party patch to re-enable DUN on their Treo 650 have found it to be buggy. But it’s also possible that Spring originally didn’t bother to fully develop this feature because it planned to disable it.

Another Missing Feature

And it doesn’t end there. You can’t use another Bluetooth device to access the files stored on the Treo 650. This is something I do all the time with my fairly inexpensive Sony Ericsson phone, but the Treo 650 doesn’t offer this feature, either.

I don’t know if Sprint disabled this or if palmOne left it out of the device entirely. If it’s palmOne’s fault, it probably came as the result of pressure from wireless carriers.

If you can pull the pictures off the Treo 650 with your desktop or laptop, then you don’t have to send them directly from the smartphone, a service that many wireless carriers charge for.

I don’t mean to single out the Treo 650. There are other phones that could also have served as an example. Some Motorola v710 users are so angry at the way Verizon Wireless crippled the Bluetooth functions of this phone that they have started a class-action lawsuit.

The Bluetooth SIG Should Put Its Foot Down

I’m not saying that every Bluetooth phone should support every possible Bluetooth function. But I think there should be some basic features that every phone ought to offer if its going to bear the Bluetooth label.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has weighed in on this issue, but it isn’t willing to go quite as far as I’d like.

Rather than requiring phones that bear the Bluetooth label to support some minimal functions, it has released a set of voluntary guidelines.

It suggests that basic mobile phones should support hands-free, headset, device ID, file transfer, object exchange, service discovery, dial-up networking, and serial port.

It also says that a high-end device like a smartphone should support advanced and generic audio distribution, audio/video remote control, SIM access, human interface device, cordless telephony, PAN, and printing.

What Can We Do?

Hopefully companies will listen to the Bluetooth SIG’s suggestions, but I’m not really hopeful.

Fortunately, there are a few things we users can do about this.

First off, when you go to buy a new phone, don’t make the mistake of believing that the Bluetooth logo on the box means it can do everything you want it to. You’ll be wise to do a bit of research to find out exactly what Bluetooth functions the device supports before you put your money down.

And don’t necessarily believe what the carrier tells you. The reason those v710 users started a lawsuit is Verizon Wireless advertised that the device could do several things with Bluetooth that it actually can’t

In addition, help put pressure on wireless carriers to not cripple Bluetooth in the phones they offer. If there’s a smartphone your carrier offers that doesn’t support the Bluetooth features you want, complain to the carrier. Sprint’s decision to put DUN back into the Treo 650 shows that carriers can be swayed by pressure.

Bluetooth is revolutionizing the way we use handhelds and smartphones. This is too important to let the wireless carriers stand in the way.

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