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Certicom Locks Up Bluetooth in Monte Carlo

In addition to numerous licensing deals between software companies that have peppered the wireless sector over the last several months, the mobile sector has also seen its fair share of overtures to improve wireless security.

This week was no different as security firm Certicom Wednesday announced at the Bluetooth Congress in Monte Carlo, France that it has joined forces with Classwave, Socket and WIDCOMM to improve security for Bluetooth solutions.

To demonstrate, Certicom said it would show how one of its new wireless virtual private network (VPN) applications which would allow workers to access corporate data from handhelds and other devices using a Bluetooth connection. Specifically, Certicom will demonstrate its movianVPN product by connecting a PDA into a corporate intranet using both a dial-up Bluetooth connection to a cellular phone and a Bluetooth connection to a local area network (LAN) access point. Certicom's other products provide enhanced security for additional applications running over Bluetooth, including SSL Plus for Internet browsing and e-commerce, and WTLS Plus for m-commerce.

But will this matter if the people who promise to make innovative products can't get Bluetooth together?

As many people know, Bluetooth allows PDAs, MP3 players, mobile phones, digital cameras and other devices to operate wirelessly over distances of 30+ feet. And some even believe that Bluetooth is well positioned to be the de facto wireless networking standard for short-reach applications. IDC recently estimated that there will be almost 450 million devices worldwide using Bluetooth wireless technology by 2004.

Others aren't so sure, however. A May 30 study from Datacomm Research Strategies found that widespread Bluetooth use remains, as the research firm said, "on the bubble," due to vendors' consistent failure to nail down cost, delivery, and interoperability promises.

"There are myriad applications for wireless personal area networks, and there could easily be 1.5 billion Bluetooth devices by 2005," said Michael Hentschel, Managing Director of TechVest Ventures and principal author of the report, "Bluetooth In-depth: Applications & Strategies." "But there is little profit in isolated applications; vendors must create application chains -- series of interdependent tasks that together add value."

If Bluetooth is not the answer in wireless networking, what is, then? No one is exactly sure, but Bluetooth currently faces competition from the likes of the increasingly popular 802.11b, or Wi-Fi standard, and HomeRF. Maybe getting all of the standards to perform tasks that add value is the key. Perhaps holistic standard interoperability is the answer?

Hentschel didn't say that outright so much as he noted that the competing technologies will have to rely on each other to work efficiently. He distinguished potential uses for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in his report, noting that Bluetooth offers the most economical solution for low- to medium-speed device connectivity while 802.11 will dominate high-speed applications. Overall, Hentschel found that Bluetooth will ship in greater volume, and stressed that Bluetooth must work with 802.11 wireless LANs as well as 2G, 2.5G, and 3G mobile phone networks.

What does seem clear, is the importance of evolving standards in the wireless data sector; Gartner Dataquest said Wednesday that a proliferation of mobile applications, services and devices will drive the North American wireless data market from 7.3 million subscribers in 2000 to 137.5 million subscribers in 2005.

"Increasing mobilization capabilities of work forces, together with additional competitive pressures will drive the adoption of wireless data to enable corporate applications such as e-mail and messaging as well as specific vertical applications such as field service, and sales/inventory programs," said Tole Hart, senior industry analyst for Gartner Dataquest's worldwide Telecommunications and Networking group.

So, how big is Certicom's demonstration of Bluetooth security on PDAs in France? For now, the industry may have to ask themselves the timeless classic: if the tree falls and no one hears it, et cetera, et cetera. Certicom and partner companies may be finding ways to secure Bluetooth, but it may not matter if Bluetooth does not become fairly ubiquitous.