Raw in Bluetooth technology and claw

Feature

Raw in Bluetooth technology and claw

No wires, no connections, and it'll even talk to your fridge. Science fiction or the real promise of Bluetooth?

Ericsson is Swedish and is generally held responsible for attaching the name Bluetooth to wireless technology. Why it chose the name is as much a mystery as how 10th century Danish King Harald got the Bluetooth monicker in the first place; answers on a postcard please.

Bluetooth is connections without cables and thus, allegedly, without tears. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group was founded in 1998 by Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia and Toshiba which jointly reasoned that, were there an open standard to enable data transmission between mobile devices without the need to buy, carry or connect cables, then a few people could make a few bob. Lucent, Microsoft, Motorola and 3Com joined in 1999, making up the nine current 'promoters', and the whole Bluetooth set-up now extends to more than 2,600 associates.

As a March 2001 white paper rattled on happily, "Connectivity and interoperability with Bluetooth technology means comfortable wireless communication. No longer trouble with thousands of cables or compatibility problems with distant devices like notebooks, organisers, scanners, printers, telephones etc. Bluetooth supports a lot of different electronic devices, even those with low performance eg headphones. The Bluetooth wireless technology is a global specification for wireless communication that guarantees global interoperability between devices, regardless of the supplier, and regardless of the country in which they are used, as long as they share the same Bluetooth profile."

Physically, the gear is small. Size estimates vary, but IBM's "about half the size of a ballpoint pen" sounds about right, and it communicates on the 2.4GHz radio frequency, on the Industrial Scientific and Medical band. The frequency requires no licensing, and sends and receives data at around a mega bit per second, which is said to be "ten times as fast as the serial cables or infra-red connections on the back of your desktop or laptop computer." The range is short; ten metres at level one, 100 metres at level two, and 200 metres mooted as a future possibility.

Richard Barber is a future technologies architect at Articom-Integralis and set the scenario thus, "Let's imagine you're using your mobile. First of all you enter your PIN when you switch on the device and then speak your name for biometric voice verification. The mobile phone now knows with 90 per cent accuracy that only the person who is authorised to do so is using it. Your mobile phone will synchronise with your other Bluetooth enabled devices giving access to your car, the office car park, office building and finally your desktop PC, which will start booting as you reach the building. This creates the ultimate personal network, with no 'strings' attached, and without the user ever needing to swipe a card, show a pass, or type in another PIN or password."

Right; you wander up to your car, say "hello, it's me", and you've got the keys to the kingdom? "In a perfect world, yes." So what about this 90 per cent accuracy business? Security, in Mr B's opinion, has "not been taken seriously, and is not really integrated." There are, he said, three levels which are nothing, a link level, where devices speak one to another and swap passwords, and then an application layer, which depends on the exertions of the user. People get the security they want and, as what they generally want is convenience, that's all the manufacturers tend to build in. It is, he said, rather like the car market; as long as punters mainly enquire how fast it goes, and where's the switch for the electric windows, no manufacturer is going to pay much attention to the fact that an average, bright ten year old can get into your wheels in eight seconds flat.

You could, said Richard Barber, get a Linux based PDA, rewrite the Bluetooth interface, stroll into a London pub and hack into every Bluetooth enabled device in the place; or get a friendly cleaner to drop a GPRS linked device behind a radiator in someone's office and thus, until the batteries run out, you can siphon off stuff from anywhere you've got internet access. Manufacturers, he concluded, are not going to be over bothered about security until the market insists .

Deloitte Research mobile and wireless director Paul Lee was in some agreement on the security issue, "It's obviously easier to hack into a radio link than it is to cut into a cable, but to do the Linux number in a London pub you'd need everyone's Bluetooth device to be switched on, and if you can't be bothered to lock your door, then you shouldn't complain when the burglars let themselves in."

Toshiba was a founding father and Tosh Europe strategic marketing and solutions manager Dieter Kossessa argued that, whilst Bluetooth has been chugging along for a while and has yet to take over the universe, its strengths outweigh its weaknesses, and its all important advantage is serious industry support - as he analogously and reasonably points out, VHS was never the world's best audio visual system, but it was the one most people backed. "Bluetooth", he said, "is here, it's available, it's going to get cheaper, and it's going to stay."

Bluetooth issues

What will it mean for server and PC implementation?
The big advantages being touted for servers and PCs are in the realms of allowing a server to connect to its family of networked PCs through a non-wired interface. The difficulty with this is assigning an address of some kind to the devices so they can be uniquely identified and the information can be sent correctly; there is always the question of how secure it is sending data "through the air" but it isn't necessarily any less safe than a wired cable.

What effect will it have on network infrastructures?
It's unlikely to cause any fundamental change in the way the networks look today, as the limitations of distance and cost mean a completely wireless LAN is some way off. However, using Bluetooth to communicate from a mobile device (PDA, laptop, phone, POS terminal, et cetera) back to the network will have a huge effect on the 'last mile' between user and network, which should make this easier both for end users and for administrators.

What products are available and what's coming up in the near future?
Most of the focus has been on enabling consumer devices like mobile phones to share the headset and handset across multiple devices. The Bluetooth consortium wants it extended to any device, such as TV, fridge, radio, car, printer, PC, and what have you. These are on trial to see what value is perceived by the consumer.

What do you really think?
It's the next big wave or it's the next big drop.

Bluetooth products
Ericsson plans to launch a range of Bluetooth equipped mobile phones, including the T39 a 'small, powerful mobile phone. The T39's Bluetooth capability lets users connect the phone 'effortlessly' to a PC, PDA or any other Bluetooth device.
Ericsson http://www.ericsson.com/bluetooth/

Nokia has released the Nokia Connectivity Pack which allows wireless connections between the Nokia 6210 and any Bluetooth compatible laptop. It allows the use of the Nokia 6210 as a GSM modem connecting to a laptop within the range of 10 metres. It also facilitates the synchronisation of calendar and contact data between compatible PC office applications and the Nokia 6210.
Nokia http://www.nokia.com/bluetooth/

TDK Systems Europe and Tactel have launched a Bluetooth clip-on device that enables wireless dial-up networking, remote access and e-mail applications for PalmV handheld devices.
TDK http://www.tdksys.com/

Casira offers a 'top of the range' Bluetooth software and hardware development system. This features a Class 1 radio module, RS232 and USB interfaces, built-in I/O, capable of supporting both host-side software development (interfacing at either HCI or RFCOMM levels), and embedded systems development (intefacing at RFCOMM level, and/or using Bluecore's on-chip Risc microcontroller).
Casira http://www.csr.com/indexf5.htm

TTPCom claims to offer a turnkey BluetoothTM IP solution, ready to deploy 'out-of-the-box'. It apparently is able to meet all application requirements, and is suitable for single-chip, two-chip and system-on-chip products.
TTP Com http://www.ttpgroup.co.uk/ttpcom/bluetooth.htm

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This was first published in September 2001

 

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