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Can Wi-Fi really compete with Bluetooth?

Ozmo's PAN tech pipes up at Computex

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Intel isn't ready to give up on pushing Wi-Fi just yet, and is pitching the technology as a competitor to Bluetooth with demonstrations by Ozmo Devices scheduled for today at the Computex trade show in Taipei.

Intel has great interest in Wi-Fi, and the Centrino brand has done a lot to get the wireless networking technology into laptops. But having achieved almost complete penetration into computers Intel would now like to see Wi-Fi spreading into headphones, MP3 players and televisions - just the spaces where Bluetooth is making inroads.

The first problem to be overcome is the inability of most Wi-Fi-equipped laptops to connect to more than one network at a time, and this is addressed by Intel's "Cliffside" technology that allows multiple connections. Next up is for devices to be able to identify themselves, Intel has created a proprietary standard for device negotiations, which they hope to incorporate into 802.11 at some point in the future.

The next component is a low-powered implementation of Wi-Fi, which can be cheaply embedded into consumer electronics, this is where Ozmo Devices come in, and what they are demonstrating in Taipei.

The pitch is that Wi-Fi PANs will be cheaper as laptops won't need what's described as "Legacy technologies such as Bluetooth that require another, dedicated radio". Ozmo reckons they can compete with Bluetooth on power consumption, and offer greater speed, along with reduced cost as peripheral device manufactures won't need to bundle Bluetooth dongles.

That might play well in Palo Alto, where Ozmo is based, but in Europe and Asia Bluetooth is already embedded in everything and any competitor is going to show a clear and distinct advantage to gain any market share.

Wi-Fi bands are already overcrowded in many areas, and multiplying the number of Wi-Fi devices by seven (Cliffside can support seven simultaneous Wi-Fi connections) isn't going to help at all.

Bluetooth does clever frequency-hopping stuff that Wi-Fi lacks, to avoid interference, but the real power of the standard is the SDP – Service Discovery Protocol. The SDP is used to negotiate between devices, and will be used to create new connections over UWB or even Wi-Fi.

Unless the technology can address serious deficiencies in Bluetooth – and initial demonstrations don't show that - then it starts to look like a company squeezing their patented technology into any application they can, rather than trying to solve real problems. ®

Top three mobile application threats

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