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Bluetooth 2.1 promises painless pairing

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A new version of the Bluetooth short-range wireless connectivity standard has been published. The update promises to boost battery life and make pairing gadgets a doddle.

Bluetooth 2.1 improves pairing in two ways: better security and automatic pairing. Devices like headsets that simply extend the capabilities of a phone, say, will be able to pair with the host automatically once the handset's owner has chosen to add a Bluetooth add-on.

How well this will work in offices where there may be dozens of potential devices the phone could connect to will remain to be seen. Bluetooth 2.1 also allows devices to generate a six-digit passkey on behalf of the user. The key is used to encrypt communications on the wireless link with a strength equivalent to a 16-digit alphanumeric string, claimed the Bluetooth SIG, the organisation behind the standard. This, it said, prevents eavesdroppers listening in.

The power savings will come to devices like mice and keyboards that use low data transfer rates and primarily send information rather than receive it. These devices will be able to operate in an even lower-power consuming mode and still send all the data they need to. That, the Bluetooth SIG said, will increase these add-ons' battery life fivefold.

Bluetooth 2.1 devices will be compatible with products that use older versions of the standard, though the connections won't be able to use these new features.

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