|The match is on! Which technology will come out
on top, or will the points be shared? In this article weíll take a look at
802.11b as opposed to Bluetooth. Iíll give you a background and point out
the advantages and disadvantages of each so that you can make a decision for
yourself. Once you have read this article you should have a general
understanding of which would most suit your wireless networking needs.
The introduction of 802.11b was one of the first major steps towards the
expansion of wireless networking Ė the jump to speeds of up to 11mbps (in
reality you would however achieve something like 6mbps) contributed
significantly to this. It has since grown and 802.11a and g have been
released and are going strong. Because of its proven track record and
relatively inexpensive hardware, 802.11b has emerged as a favorite amongst
SOHO users. 802.11g has improved on the performance of 802.11b and is
Bluetooth was invented to get rid of wires and can be used to create a
Personal Area Network (PAN). It is more of a wireless substitute for
connecting devices such as digital cameras, PDAs and mobile phones with each
other or a desktop computer. Bluetooth is more suited for connecting two
point-to-point devices, whereas Wi-Fi is an IEEE standard intended for
networking. Although it has the capability of interconnecting up to 8
devices to form a small LAN, with a low bandwidth of about 700KB/sec and a
range of about 30 feet it cannot really be considered as an honorable
Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity), or 802.11b, is an IEEE standard for wireless
Local Area Networks. Backward compatible with 802.11, 802.11b runs on the
2.4 GHz band and is capable of working at speeds of up to 11Mbps. This
allows you to surf the Internet at broadband speeds when connected to an
access point or in ad hoc mode. The IEEE published 802.11 in 1997 to make it
the first globally approved wireless LAN standard. In 1999 they amended the
specifications to add two more speeds, 5.5 and 11Mbps.
Out of the 7 layers of the ISO Model (refer to image below), 802.11, like
the other 802.x standards, centers around the Physical and Data link
layer. Any application, operating system or protocol should work as well on
a Wi-Fi LAN as it did on an Ethernet LAN.
An 802.11b wireless network adapter can operate on two modes, Ad-Hoc or
Infrastructure. In infrastructure mode all your traffic passes through a
wireless access point and can be thought of as a wired network without
cables. This is commonly setup to allow resources such as printers and files
to be shared. The image below demonstrates such a setup.
In Ad-Hoc mode, your computers or mobile devices talk to each other
directly and do not need an access point. This type of structure can support
up to 8 devices connected to each other and is useful when you want to setup
a wireless connection quickly or when you have a few computers in your
network. The image below demonstrates a typical ad-hoc network.
- Higher data rates (11Mbps)
- Longer range (approx. 100 meters)
- Relatively inexpensive hardware
- RF Band is shared
Most new laptops are Wi-Fi enabled and have the technology built in. If
they donít, or you own an older laptop, then you can purchase a wireless NIC
card which would fit into an empty PCMCIA slot or USB port (the same goes
for Personal Digital Assistants).
Bluetooth, named after the Danish king Herald Blatand, is a user friendly
radio frequency wireless technology initially conceived by Ericsson in 1994.
It is a short-range data communications protocol, known also as the IEEE
802.15 standard. A number of large companies, namely Nokia, Ericsson, Intel
and Toshiba formed the Bluetooth SIG group in 1998. Since then many other
heavyweights such as Microsoft, 3Com, Motorola, and so on have joined and
the number of participating companies has now reached 1500.
Bluetooth operates on the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band and uses a frequency
hopping spread spectrum technique - which is one of two basic modulation
techniques used in spread spectrum signal transmission. Frequencies are
switched repeatedly during radio transmission to help reduce unlawful access
or other means of telecommunications to cross paths and cause interruption.
It also makes Bluetooth communication more robust and secure. Interference
from other devices will not cause the transmission to stop, but the speed to
- Voice/data compatible
- Allows for the formation of an Ad-hoc network
- Low power consumption
- Short Range
- Low data rate
- RF Band is shared
Bluetoothís advantage over Infrared (IrDA Ė Infrared Data Association) is
its ability to connect 1-to-many devices rather than 1-to-1. Infrared
requires a direct line of sight in order to operate and has a range of
approximately one meter. Bluetooth developers have said they did not intend
to create an alternative to IrDA but so many companies are now replacing the
devices IrDA slot with Bluetooth. Although Bluetooth use is becoming more
and more popular and IrDA is being phased out, I do believe that Infrared
will, in some way, still be around in the near future.
Bluetooth technology can be found in many devices. Nowadays, if you
purchase a laptop, PDA or mobile phone it is bound to be Bluetooth enabled.
Types of Bluetooth Devices
Installing a Bluetooth dongle is easy; simply insert the CD that came
with it, follow the on screen prompts and then plug the dongle into a free
USB port. If you had a Bluetooth compatible laptop you could just plug the
dongle into an internet enabled personal computer and check your e-mail,
download Windows updates, or transfer files. On the same lines you could
also synchronize your PDA with your personal computer and download the
latest appointments, e-mails or send text messages.
Bluetooth headsets are mainly used with compatible cell phones, place the
headset on your ear and roam freely while talking to colleagues, friends and
family. You could also connect to a dongle on a personal computer and use it
for voice conferencing for example. A number of products exist on the market
today, which all offer good sound quality and have a similar variety of
features. Prices vary depending on manufacturer but usually you can get a
decent one for around $75 to $150.
In this article we have learnt how, essentially, Wi-Fi is really for when
cabling is not a feasible option and Bluetooth is for intercommunication
between devices without the need for a PC.
Bluetooth makes connecting various devices to each other without the need
for cables a fairly easy task, whereas 802.11-based products can extend, or
replace, a wired Local Area Network. From a personal userís point-of-view, I
would suggest - if possible - having both available if your everyday life
requires you to travel to different destinations and meet different people.
This way you will always be ready, if one isnít available then you can use
Itís no secret that the overall performance of a wired LAN is more
superior to a wireless network. However, expect improvements, in the coming
years things will get bigger and better. Having said this, the word that
comes to my mind when I think of wireless - especially Wi-Fi - is
Convenience. This technology makes sitting out on the porch or in the
garden on a hot summerís day and browsing the Internet a possibility. Now
that is very convenient if you ask me!