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Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth to co-exist within device

New Wi-Fi specs that enable direct connections won't replace Bluetooth. Instead, both wireless protocols will likely be supported in the same device, says analyst.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor on

The Wi-Fi Alliance's new specification that allows devices to make direct Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi connections is unlikely to edge out Bluetooth from the market, says an analyst, who adds devices will instead incorporate both technologies.

Philip Solis, principal analyst of mobile broadband at ABI Research, said the Wi-Fi Direct specification can provide direct connectivity to devices that do not have Bluetooth, but the latter has additional features that Wi-Fi Direct does not yet possess.

The new Wi-Fi specification, which allows devices to discover and connect without having to go through a router, is expected to be published soon, with device certification to follow in 2010.

"Wi-Fi Direct has the potential to pose a threat to Bluetooth, but it doesn't at this time," Solis explained in an e-mail.

"Wi-Fi Direct allows for connectivity and networking between two devices... However, Bluetooth also implements Bluetooth profiles to allow for various services, such as printing [and] streaming stereo audio."

Furthermore, devices are more likely to include both technologies as many mobile chipset makers cater to both markets, he said. "An increasing number of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth chipsets are combo chipsets that have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on the same chipset," he noted.

This echoes Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) executive director Mike Foley's statement on the trade associations' blog: "It is highly unlikely that manufacturers will converge on one solution. Instead, the consumer will have to understand which solution their products implement and only purchase compatible ones."

When Wi-Fi Alliance announced the new Wi-Fi Direct specification in mid-October, there were speculations it would challenge Bluetooth's stand in the market.

But, Bluetooth SIG expects its latest specification to hold strong in the market.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Derek Soh, marketing director of Asia-Pacific and Japan at Bluetooth SIG, said Bluetooth 3.0 gives users the ability to move larger data files such as videos, music or photos between devices, compared to earlier specifications.

He offered several use examples, including wireless bulk synchronization of music libraries between PCs and music devices, bulk downloads of photos to a printer or PC, and exchanging video files between cameras and televisions.

While it will take time for Bluetooth 3.0 to reach mass adoption, Soh believes consumers will gradually move to the latest specification.

According to a July report, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said Bluetooth 3.0 transfers over Wi-Fi are expected to be "relatively trouble-free". Bluetooth 3.0 newly incorporates 802.11 as an additional transport layer.

"However, Bluetooth operations could become problematic as connections become more intermittent as a result of covering larger distances," wrote Dulaney, adding that Bluetooth was originally architected as a personal area network (PAN) covering less than 10 meters.

Fellow Gartner analyst, Nick Jones, said in a June 2008 report that Bluetooth 3.0 will introduce new security and privacy challenges because it enables mobile devices to communicate in new ways. The high-speed data transfer capabilities may also introduce new media piracy challenges, he said.

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