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Bluetooth to survive amid Web-enabled devices

Despite the rise of Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets, Bluetooth will continue to co-exist with other wireless technologies, say analysts.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Bluetooth will survive as a wireless peer-to-peer application despite the rise of Wi-Fi-enabled devices, say analysts who pointed out the distinction between the technologies.

In an phone interview with ZDNet Asia, Marc Einstein, industry manager for Asia-Pacific, ICT Practice at Frost & Sullivan, said that while Bluetooth and Wi-Fi may exist on overlapping devices, both technologies have different functions.

Bluetooth is used mostly on phones as a peer-to-peer application for users to transfer small amounts of data, such as phone numbers and photographs, he explained. He added that the reason Bluetooth is successful is because it is available even on feature phones and users can use this connectivity option to transfer files even without Wi-Fi or 3G connection.

On the other hand, Wi-Fi is employed on smartphones to transfer larger packets of data, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone calls, when the user does not want to incur data charges, he said.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Brian O'Rourke, principal analyst at In-Stat, elaborated on the differences between the two technologies. He pointed out that Bluetooth is a personal area network (PAN), which is best for a very short range of about 10m and low data rate applications such as phone-to-headset and phone-to-personal computer connections.

In contrast, Wi-Fi is a local area networking (LAN) technology, which can connect devices over longer distances such as throughout a house, said O'Rourke.

With chip companies like Broadcom and TI offering silicon chips that combine both technologies, the co-existence of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi is "essentially guaranteed", he said.

Wi-Fi Direct vs. Bluetooth 3.0
Although classic Bluetooth, which O'Rourke identified as versions 1.0 and 2.0, differs from Wi-Fi, its newer sibling Bluetooth 3.0 may face a "significant threat" from Wi-Fi Direct technology, he said.

He explained that Wi-Fi-Direct enables two devices to make a peer-to-peer connection even without Wi-Fi. In contrast, version 3.0 of the PAN technology allows large file transfers by connecting the devices using Bluetooth, but over a Wi-Fi network, he said.

Despite Wi-Fi Direct's challenge to Bluetooth 3.0, O'Rourke reiterated that classic Bluetooth will remain a significant competitor because of its dominance as a PAN technology.

Wireless headset maker picks Bluetooth
The decision of wireless headset player Jabra to use Bluetooth in its products reflects O'Rourke's view that classic Bluetooth will stand strong.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Mark Leigh, president of Asia-Pacific at Jabra, said the company uses Bluetooth because most manufacturers include the technology in their devices.

Aside from the popularity of the technology, Leigh noted that Bluetooth's relatively low power consumption and small framework also help in shaping the form factors of the devices.

"Bluetooth currently supports our need for use with headsets, as extra transfer speeds do not affect the voice quality, and we get good power consumption and size," he said.

He also pointed out that Bluetooth is already ubiquitous in personal devices, while newer technologies such as Wi-Fi Direct and wireless USB are only starting to come onto the market.

Leigh believes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi will co-exist, but maybe not in the same form as the technologies evolve.

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