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Wi-Fi starts getting chummy with its peers

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The Wi-Fi Alliance has started certifying devices as being compatible with the new Wi-Fi Direct protocol. The protocol allows devices to connect to each other without an access point.

The technically literate might cry that ad-hoc connections have been part of Wi-Fi since its inception, but this is different - although not very different. Using Wi-Fi Direct, users can browse nearby devices and connect to them at the push of a button, automatically encrypt those connections - and even bring other devices into a little group. It's just like Bluetooth, only faster.

But that's not how the Wi-Fi Alliance sees it of course. In the world of the Alliance there is no Bluetooth, and the things that Bluetooth is used for are just impossible without Wi-Fi Direct - as the promotional video demonstrates:

So now we have the first Wi-Fi-Direct-supporting Wi-Fi cards, and a couple of access points (which surely defeats the object, though who are we to say). But it will be a while before Wi-Fi Direct is ready to replace the incumbent Bluetooth.

Bluetooth leaps about the 2.4GHz band like a gnat on speed, while Wi-Fi of all flavours sit on a single channel and interference be damned. Bluetooth also has an extremely comprehensive sniffing protocol by which devices can be filtered by capability or familiarity, something that has been refined over many years. It now even allows devices to create an ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection, if speed is that important to them. Wi-Fi Direct leaves all that to the software, which risks presenting the user with an inconsistent experience.

But Bluetooth has never really taken off in the USA, partly because in Europe the phone shops demanded that operators gave support for Bluetooth in handsets ('cos the margin on a Bluetooth headset is so attractive). American shops didn't have such sway with the operators and even now Bluetooth isn't widely used.

Wi-Fi is a very respected brand, and that's worth a lot. Taking on Bluetooth directly does risk complicating the experience, and it will be a brave manufacturer who decides to drop Bluetooth support on the basis that Wi-Fi can now do everything. ®

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