By Nick Hunn of TDK Systems

I have predicted that Bluetooth would kill 802.11 and other wireless standards. But Jim Zyren of Harris has argued cogently that simulations show they can co-exist.

I don’t dispute that they can operate in the same area, but Bluetooth poses a much bigger threat in terms of price and integration. So, to keep the argument on the boil, let’s look at how Bluetooth and its competitors are likely to be implemented.

The question is not really whether the technologies will co-exist, but whether there is a commercial place for both of them. There’s little dispute as to which technology is better suited for mobile LAN access – 802.11 was written for this.

Where 802.11 faces a problem is in usability. If we all believe the promise of Bluetooth then we foresee a future where any laptop that wants to connect will include Bluetooth. 

In the long term Bluetooth will be built in – in the shorter term it will be added using PC Cards or USB adaptors.

Here there is an interference problem. Although Bluetooth can co-exist with 802.11 or HomeRF over a wider area, they are unlikely to work together in close proximity. 

That gives the laptop user a problem – if they want to have both, they need to be able to select one or the other. That’s not a solution which many users will get right. Instead they’ll get frustrated.

They’ll discover that if they remove one or other solution everything works. And that is the problem that heralds 802.11’s fate. 802.11 has one purpose in life – wireless networking. Bluetooth on the other hand can do lots. It can work as a lower speed wireless network at a speed that most users will find acceptable. It can also connect up to access points in hotels and in the home.

On the move it can connect to mobile phones. It can synchronise with palm format devices. In short it can be used wherever you are – home, office or on the move. It may not do any one solution as well as a dedicated offering, but its overall ubiquity makes it enormously powerful.

Users don’t want to carry around multiple devices. And that’s why I believe it will ultimately win.Price will also play its part. Bluetooth is designed to be cheap.

Other wireless technologies don’t have the cost reduction opportunities of Bluetooth, and more importantly don’t have the breadth of applications to drive the price down. Bluetooth benefits from a range of applications across electronics, telecoms, automotive and computing which ensures that it will always be significantly cheaper than 802.11.

It makes it easier to make the decision to integrate it. And as soon as Bluetooth inveigles its way onto the motherboard, the fate of other 2.4GHz standards are sealed.

Once this happens higher speed wireless networking has as number of routes. Either it can find another frequency, another standard can be adopted (and here HiperLan will be a strong contender), or Bluetooth itself can reinvent itself in a future revision as a high speed network solution. Alternatively the two technologies may find a way of coexisting by using Bluetooth to 802.11 bridges.

In the short term 802.11 solutions will ship. They already are. But that’s no guarantee of success. 8 track cassettes and BetaMax shipped until users found more convenient solutions. Bluetooth offers a similar convenience. There’s a place for 802.11, but I believe that time will confine it to wider area solutions outside the PC environment.

This article first appeared in Incisor, the Bluetooth newsletter.  Contact Vince Holton at ; Telephone: +44 (0)1256 701646