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802.11, Bluetooth Will Co-Exist: Study

Details of a Forrester Research study of the WLAN/Bluetooth markets in Europe released Friday indicate that the two technologies will co-exist with minimal problems. This is quite contrary to the the numerous dire industry predictions about a high degree of incompatibility between the two wireless technologies and the eventual triumph of WLAN or 802.11 technology over its seemingly doomed short-range sibling.

Bluetooth is essentially a short-range wireless technology with working distances of about 100 feet. Data transfer speeds for Bluetooth range from 0.5 to 1.5 megabits per second. Bluetooth, while it is a mobile networking technology, was really never designed to compete with the range and power of products using the IEEE 802.11 standards. Products using Bluetooth are beginning to appear on mobile phones and other small, portable devices. Bluetooth isn't intended to transfer huge multimedia files - rather it is a potential mechanism for facilitating small m-commerce transactions initiated between the end-user device and some physical vending or commerce device.

WLAN is a more robust technology with data transfer speeds of 54 Mbps under the IEEE spec and usable ranges measured in the hundreds to potentially thousands of feet, depending on infrastructure. This technology is oriented towards the enterprise and SOHO environments and costs significantly more than Bluetooth componentry.

The Forrester Research study supports this idea in stating that the two technologies are really pitched at entirely different industry segments.

The report itself indicates that Bluetooth with outnumber WLAN by ten-to-one by 2006. It predicts that in 2006 there will be 235 million Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, laptops and PDAs compared to 22 million WLAN devices. Bluetooth's popularity in Europe will eclipse WLAN simply by the sheer volume of devices incorporating the technology. This is also based on the fact that there are currently 100 times more mobile phones in Europe than laptops, a trend expected to continue as phones get more sophisticated data transfer technologies built in.

The report also pointed out that the power requirement differential makes Bluetooth much more suitable for mobile phone use than WLAN technology. The author of the study, Lars Godell, did mention that he expects WLAN technology to be seen on 10 percent of laptops by 2002, rising to 76 percent by 2006.

Bluetooth is expected to be on 73 percent of mobile phones and 44 percent of PDAs by 2006. Part of Bluetooth's undeniable appeal is that chipset prices are expected to have dropped to the magical $5 mark by 2003, making it an inevitable part of all but the cheapest end of the cellular market.

The report, entitled "Bluetooth and W-LAN Will Coexist," involved research with 50 networking and IT managers across Europe, according to Forrester. The research firm also stated that it interviewed 48 telcos, hardware and software vendors, system integrators, wireless Internet service providers, and regulators.

Matthew Peretz is Managing Editor of