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Bluetooth: Threat or Menace?

Two very different takes on Bluetooth. infoSync's editor, Jørgen Sundgot, editorializes:

For the last few months, I've been using Bluetooth extensively, but never as much as in the course of the past 14 days - and I thought I'd share my story with y'all, to let you know how much I've grown to love the very limited capabilities of peer-to-peer (P2P) communications and personal area networks (PAN) I've been toying around with. And just so someone doesn't choke on me not using 802.11b as an example; it's far from as easy as Bluetooth -- say what you want, but I've tried both and will take Bluetooth over 802.11b for P2P and PAN functionality any day (you thought I was going to say something nice about 802.11b now, didn't you).
And in the other corner, Bob Frankston writes:
I've written a lot about Bluetooth and don't want to revisit it again but will risk some short and brief comments. Bluetooth reminds me of the story of the blind men and the elephant -- each feels a part and presumes that it represents the elephant. People find some claim about Bluetooth they like and assume that it is the best way to get that particular aspect. But Bluetooth is like the days of dedicated word processors -- they couldn't compete with the ability to quickly evolve products on generic PCs.
Interestingly, at a recent mini-conference on wireless networks and PEDs (Portable Electronic Devices) hosted by the US Navy, we learned that the Navy's newest security guidelines specifically prohibit the use of Bluetooth. At the same time, the Navy is installing 802.11b networks aboard ships. I got the distinct impression that the Navy's computer security people feel they simply don't yet understand all the implications of Bluetooth and related PAN technologies. They feel they understand 802.11 -- its strengths, its weaknesses, and how to secure it -- and so they're comfortable with it.

Personally, I go back and forth on Bluetooth. When I'm in Japan with a friend who pulls out his Sony CLIE with Bluetooth Memory Stick module and shows me how he can connect to the Internet by remotely activating the phone in his pocket, I think, "Wow, this is pretty cool. This could take off." On the other hand, when I think about the momentum of 802.11 -- and I have to agree with Frankston on this one; the two technologies are competitive -- then I wonder how much of a role Bluetooth will truly have. If you crank down the power and ratchet up the production, 802.11 seems to -- at the hardware level -- to be able to take on Bluetooth. What 802.11 doesn't have is the software layer that it needs. Right now, 802.11 is purely about IP transport. Auto-discovery of devices, protocol negotiation, standards for media transport (e.g., voice from cell phone to headset) are all the sorts of things lacking from 802.11 and present in Bluetooth. This, of course, is fixable, at least in theory.

In the end, I suppose my prediction is that if the 802.11 software layer improves rapidly, then Bluetooth is doomed. If this doesn't happen, though, then Bluetooth has a good shot -- not because it's cheaper or consumes less power, but because it's easier to use among mixed devices. If anyone is working to universally solve the 802.11 high-level software issues, then I'd like to know about them.

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