Comdex 2001: Pico pushes Bluetooth as a LAN

The official story is that 802.11 is a wireless LAN, while Bluetooth is for cable replacement. Comdex exhibitor Pico Communications begs to differ

When most people think of wireless networking, they think of standards such as 802.11b (WiFi) and its faster successor, 802.11a, recently dubbed WiFi5 because it operates in the 5Ghz frequency.

However, Comdex exhibitor Pico Communications' philosophy is that 802.11 isn't for all wireless networking applications, and you should consider Bluetooth in certain scenarios. Here at Comdex, Pico is demonstrating its Bluetooth-based wireless access point which provides LAN access to mobile devices.

My question is why anyone would be interested in a wireless LAN technology that is orders of magnitude slower (1Mbit/s) than 802.11a, which runs at about 54Mbit/s.

The answer, according to Pico's director of product marketing John Cook, lies in Bluetooth's substantially lower power requirements. "This makes it ideal for PDAs, cell phones, and other devices where battery-life is an important consideration," says Cook. Indeed, 802.11 is a power draw. In my experience, the technology can be a huge power sink for smaller devices.

But I'm still not convinced that Bluetooth is a LAN technology that decision makers should consider as a strategy for supporting wireless devices.

In Pico's technology, up to seven Bluetooth devices share bandwidth on a network called a piconet. In the worst case scenario, if all seven devices are simultaneously accessing a wireless access point, the maximum bandwidth that any one device would get is about 100Kbit/s. Even considering the less time-sensitive applications that could realistically be used at this speed (such as email), Bluetooth is dangerously close to other packet radio technologies that sufficiently support the same sort of applications, but cover entire metropolitan areas instead of Bluetooth's 250-foot maximum range Strategically, a local 100 or even 200Kbit/s technology will not be able to compete with future wireless WAN technologies such as 3G. Although 3G is not available in the US yet, it has demonstrated throughput of 50 to 150Kbit/s in countries like Japan.

So I'm a bit skeptical about making any big investments in Bluetooth as a LAN technology. The only current benefit I can see is that Bluetooth lets you take advantage of devices such as PDAs and phones that will have the technology built in. But perhaps I'll revise my opinion when I get the chance to test Pico's products later this year. Stay tuned.

If it moves, we cover it. See ZDNet UK's Mobile Technology News Section for the latest news, reviews and price checks on mobile phones, PDAs, notebook computers and anything else you can take-away.

For full Comdex coverage see ZDNet UK's Comdex '01 News Special.

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