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Bluetooth Technology

Bluetooth Versus 802.11b Wireless LANs

There is a debate going on regarding the merits of two technologies, rather three technologies - Wireless LANs, Bluetooth and wide area wireless networks. The protagonists (generally the vendors or consultants experienced in only one technology) extend the capabilities of their favorite technology against the other. 

  1. Bluetooth has lower distance range ( less than 30 feet) than 802.11b (up to 200 feet). Therefore, you would need many more access points to cover the same area of an office. Simple mathematics will show that you may need as many as 20-50 times the number of access points. 
  2. Bluetooth has generally lower speed than that of 802.11b wireless LANs.
  3. Bluetooth components (chips and radios) and device adapters are cheaper than wireless LAN components and adapters.
  4. Bluetooth chips have lower power consumption - less drain on battery. 
  5. Bluetooth is more appropriate and affordable technology for communication between smart phones and other accessories or between PDAs and information kiosks.
  6. Bluetooth is younger technology, and therefore is less mature. However, it has a huge following. Purely because of the potential and future expectation built by the Bluetooth vendors, there were over 2000 vendors signed up as members of Bluetooth forum There is a good developers following as well. Wireless LAN industry is smaller but more mature.
  7. It is not fair to run comparisons between Bluetooth and WLAN regarding the number of chips being shipped or expected to be shipped for either technology. Because of its price and the type of products where it is going into, Bluetooth will soon surpass 802.11 chip shipments but dollar volume might still be smaller for some time. Ultimately, Bluetooth dollar volume is expected to catch up.
  8. Bluetooth will go beyond cable replacement in short distances between handheld devices and handheld devices and a kiosk or local server. It will meet the needs of connecting devices at the edge node of a network.
  9. Bluetooth and wireless LANs address different wireless connectivity requirements. Therefore, the two technologies need not and should not compete with each other. If Bluetooth community would not get offended, 802.11b is the big brother and Bluetooth is the younger brother.
  10. We also see emergence of technologies that bring the two together. Bluetooth access points like Red-M's 1050 connect Bluetooth devices to wireless LANs. See Multi Mode Access Point page on our site.
  IEEE 802.11b & 802.11a Bluetooth 
Time Table  Standard in 1998, Products in 2000 Standard in 2000, products in 2001 and 2002
Frequency Band and bandwidth IEEE 802.11b -  2.4 GHz
IEEE 802.11a - 5GHHz
IEEE 802.11g - 2.4 
2.4 GHz 
Speed 11 Mbps- 54 Mbps  (Effective speed - half of rated speed) 1-2 Mbps (Effective speed - less than 50% rated speed)
Modulation Technique Spread Spectrum
Distance Coverage Up to 300 feet - 802.11b
Up to 60 ft - 802.11a
Up to 30 feet now  - efforts to increase coverage and speed 
Number of access points required every 200 feet - 802.11b
Every  50 feet - 802.11a 
Every 30 feet - 25 to 30 times number of Bluetooth access points; 
Maturity More matured products Less matured but progressing fast
Market Penetration Quite widespread  Just starting in 2002
Interference with other devices  2.4 GHz band is polluted - significant interference here  2.4 GHz band is polluted - significant interference here 
Interoperability  Current problems  expected to be resolved in future Problems now but expect resolution soon
Cost Much more expensive than Bluetooth  Cost incremental in PDAs and phones - $50; However Bluetooth chips @ <$5 now
Vendors Proxim, 3COM, Symbol, Cisco  Mostly chip vendors supplying to device manufacturers

Coexistence of Bluetooth and WiFi
Several vendors ( Intersil, Silicon Wave and Mobilian) are building chips that will support both technologies in the same card. This will enable each of the two technologies to be used for what they are best suited to do. Chip set provider Intersil and Bluetooth radio  maker Silicon Wave annunced reference design that allows simultaneous operation of two protocols. Both operate in the same band. The vendors seems to be addressing interference issues between the two technologies. Blue802 technology uses a time-slicing technique in which two protocols switch back and forth fast enough to give the appearance of simultaneous operation.

More Information on Bluetooth

Bluetooth Index Page  |  What Is Bluetooth?  |  How It Works
Air Interface & Frequency Band  Applications  |  Technology Status Products & Vendors 
   Competing Technologies  | 
Market Outlook  |  Specifications  |  FAQ  | Resources


Related Resources:
802.11b versus 802.11a

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