Thursday, August 24, 2006

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is the wireless technology typically used for connecting devices like mobiles and laptops. It uses the radio frequencies of 2.45 GHz. Using Bluetooth technology, data can be transferred for nearly 10 meters. All it needs to function is a Bluetooth chip and a receiver embedded in the product to carry the signal over the air medium.

Bluetooth makes life really simple for a gizmo geek. Devices like digital cameras, mobile phones, PDAs, iPOD, or other MP3 player has become a part of daily life. Now most of these products may need to transfer data between them, for example, transferring pictures and video from a digital camera to a laptop, or synchronizing data between a PDA and a laptop. This could be a simple enough task if all of the devices use a common standard to inter-connect. Though most of them support USB which is more or less becoming a de-facto standard, there is still a dependency on the cables and different types of pins supported by the device depending on the manufacturer. A common standard like Bluetooth for any data transfer in wireless form comes as a real boon in such scenarios.

One can compare Bluetooth with Infrared technology (iRDA), with a few differences. Unlike Infrared which requires a line of sight connectivity between the 2 devices, Bluetooth simply requires that the distance between the devices should be in the acceptable range. For example, while driving the mobile phone could be on the dashboard and using a Bluetooth headset, a person can talk as he drives. Also most infrared connections can work only between 2 devices. Using Bluetooth many devices can be connected together.

In a small network like home, the Bluetooth devices are always communicating with each other, if they are powered on. This way they create a Bluetooth LAN for a small distance where all Bluetooth enabled devices can communicate with each other. The Bluetooth LAN is called as a Personal Area Network (PAN) or Piconet.

Though other gadgets in the home might utilize the 2.45 GHz range, Bluetooth separates itself from these by using a very weak signal that "flies under the radar." Conversely these other products rarely cause interference with Bluetooth because frequency hopping keeps potential interference negligible.

Bluetooth devices comes in three classes, Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3. Point to note is Class 3 Bluetooth devices can transmit data up to 100 meters as opposed to a maximum 10 meters for the other 2 classes. Class 3 Bluetooth devices are very rare.

Bluetooth is not considered a very secure technology for data transfer, but it was never designed for that purpose as well. The basic objective was to provide a single wireless communication mechanism between multiple devices. Also the maximum distance supported by Bluetooth makes it pretty irrelevant to add the extra overhead of security in data transfer.

Although Bluetooth can be perceived to be a replacement for Wireless LAN or Wi-Fi, the low bandwidth supported by Bluetooth needs to be considered. Most Bluetooth communications happen over 1 Mbps. So, if I have to copy a 500 MB video file from my camcorder to my laptop and I also have the USB cable available, it is a no-brainer on my choice for USB for faster access. On the contrary if, I am moving around the house talking to someone on the mobile phone, and the mobile phone needs to charged at the same time as well, I would prefer using a Bluetooth headset.

Sony Ericsson pioneered this technology before being joined by IBM, Intel, Nokia, and Toshiba in May 1999. Today over 1,000 international electronics manufacturers belong to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group or SIG. Bluetooth is named after King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark, who in the 930s consolidated warring factions of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. This ability to establish peaceful communication between differing peoples is a metaphor for the ability to connect devices from differing technologies.


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