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developerWorks: Wireless : The phony conflict

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Advanced search IBM home | Products & services | Support & downloads | My account IBM developerWorks : Wireless : Wireless articles The phony conflict IEEE 802.11 and Bluetooth wireless technology Brent Miller (bamiller@us.ibm.com) Sr. software engineer, IBM October 2001 In this article, Brent A. Miller addresses the relationship between two methods for wireless communication: IEEE 802.11 WLAN and Bluetooth WPAN technologies. Learn more about how these technologies are optimized for specific usage cases and why the author believes, as many do, that the two technologies are complementary, rather than competitive with one another. Contents: WANs, LANs, and PANs IEEE 802.11 for wireless LANs Bluetooth technology for wireless PANs Complementary wireless technologies Why the separate factions?

Conclusion Numerous forms of wireless communication exist: radio frequency, satellite, Resources infrared, and others. Two methods of wireless communication, namely IEEE About the author 802.11 and Bluetooth technologies, are getting a lot of attention right now in Rate this article the information technology industry. Press reports often claim these two are Related content: competitors and conclude that IEEE 802.11 will win out at the expense of Bluetooth revealed, Part 1 Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth revealed, Part 2 We assert here, though, that these two technologies do not, in fact, compete with each other in any significant fashion. Indeed, we view them as Also in the Wireless zone: complementary and expect each to succeed on its own merits. Tutorials Tools and products IEEE 802.11 is a wireless local area networking (WLAN) technology, whereas Bluetooth wireless technology is well suited for a wireless personal Articles area network (WPAN). The two technologies share some characteristics and overlap slightly in some usage models, but they serve fundamentally different purposes. WANs, LANs, and PANs One way to segment wireless communication technologies is by the geographic area they cover. A common approach is to partition technologies into wide-area, local-area, and personal-area networks (or WANs, LANs, and PANs, respectively). The coverage of a WAN is typically measured in kilometers or at least hundreds of meters. Communication over such distances requires relatively high-power transmissions, and, because of that, a license for a specific frequency band. Typically, carriers pay a fee for a license to transmit at certain power levels in a particular frequency spectrum. High-power transmission also leads to tradeoffs between power consumption and data rates in wireless WANs. Typical data rates for today's cellular networks are relatively slow, owing largely to the transmission power needed to reach the cellular tower from a handset. Significantly faster data rates at these same levels of power transmission are impractical using today's battery technologies. In the book Bluetooth Revealed, my co-author and I observe that third-generation, or 3G, cellular systems will have significantly faster data rates. However, to maintain power consumption at reasonable levels, 3G systems will require cellular towers to be much closer together - on the order of hundreds of meters -- approaching the coverage of WLANs (discussed next). WWAN technologies include those in common use for cellular communications, such as GSM, TDMA, CDMA, and others. WLANs typically cover distances from ten to a few hundred meters. This smaller coverage distance allows lower power transmissions that often permit the use of unlicensed frequency bands. Because LANs often

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has a nominal range of 100 meters and data rates up to 11 Mbps. mobile. and notebook computers. IEEE 802. shops. low-power transmission allows for the use of unlicensed frequency bands. notebook computers. WPANs cover distances on the order of 10 meters and typically are used to connect various personal portable devices without using cables. for example. has a nominal range of 10 meters with raw data rates up to 1 Mbps. and WPANs compared. making WPAN technologies suitable for use with small. Bluetooth wireless technology.4 GHz spectrum. mobile phones. in particular. the devices typically used with WLANs are the same ones used on wired LANs: servers. IEEE 802. desktop computers. WLANs. pagers. hence.11 technology is being deployed widely for WLAN applications. This peer-to-peer device communication doesn't usually require exceedingly fast data rates. This combination of coverage and data rate leads to moderate-to-high power consumption. For the same reasons. airport lounges. the types of devices normally used with WLANs are ones that have a robust computing platform and power supply. homes.ibm. in nearly all of these cases.com/developerworks/library/wi-phone/ (2 of 5) [10/11/2001 8:44:56 PM] . they often have fairly high data rates. and so on. The short range and relatively low data rates result in low power consumption. for example. As indicated above. Bluetooth technology operates in the unlicensed 2.11 is a popular WLAN technology because it was designed for just this purpose. IEEE 802. digital cameras.developerWorks: Wireless : The phony conflict are used for relatively high-capacity data communications. and other venues. WLANs. Figure 1 illustrates these characteristics of WWANs. Earlier we noted that typical WLAN applications consume a fair amount of electrical power for their http://www-106. battery-powered devices such as PDAs. WLANs are increasingly being installed in businesses. and WPANs. WLANs usually replace or augment existing wired LANs. Figure 1. In addition.11.11 for wireless LANs IEEE 802. WLAN applications are usually identical to those of their wired counterparts: e-mail. IEEE 802. and others that rely on standard Internet-based protocols and technologies.11 is the technology of choice. Web browsing. thus. WWANs. WLANs permit a degree of mobility and enhance convenience by eliminating the wires used to connect computers to networks.

then. Even microwave ovens and some specialized lighting fixtures emit frequencies in the 2. it does indicate that significantly less power is required for Bluetooth communications.11 and Bluetooth wireless communications both take place in the 2. But smaller portable devices like handheld computers.4 GHz band. so they must be at odds with each other. Clearly IEEE 802. and the associated power consumption to do so would be a drawback to using IEEE 802. Bluetooth wireless technology is optimized for short-range.11.after all. and so on). voice. Both operate in the 2. including HomeRF and some cordless phones. For example. Bluetooth technology is not a bona fide networking technology. This is because Bluetooth links operate over shorter distances at lower data rates. Each has strengths that make it well-suited to its primary domain and that are.11 heavily leverages Internet technologies for "Ethernet-style" data networking.11. G Power consumption: The trade-off of power consumption versus range and data rate result in significantly lower consumption for Bluetooth devices. 2. Bluetooth wireless communications consume significantly less power.a view also expressed by Ericsson. Those differences include: G Range: The reach of IEEE 802. G Packet technology: Bluetooth links natively carry both voice and data using packets designed specifically for Bluetooth transports. why are these technologies so often positioned as being in a battle against each other? Here are three theories as to why the perception may exist: 1. and Bluetooth technology focuses on precisely that. but we are aware of no studies that show that http://www-106. it is unlicensed virtually worldwide. and mobile phones can't sustain the necessary power draw for long periods of time without the auxiliary power supplies that make the devices less mobile and convenient.4 GHz band. As such.11 and Bluetooth technologies. and medium-range transmissions. IEEE 802. In fact. Although some Bluetooth profiles describe methods to connect personal devices to networks. With regard to the 2. there would be little need in a WPAN for transmission power capable of reaching a device 100 meters away. whereas IEEE 802.com/developerworks/library/wi-phone/ (3 of 5) [10/11/2001 8:44:56 PM] .11. while IEEE 802. So. The nominal data rate and range for Bluetooth technology are each about one-tenth that for IEEE 802. This is where WPAN technologies come into play. They are developed by different industry groups. It might seem this band is overcrowded and so one or more technologies need to "lose" if others are to operate effectively in this spectrum. Not true. In contrast to WLAN technologies like IEEE 802. and data communication. Portable devices like notebook computers can supply this energy and still maintain reasonable battery life. With these differences. too. inevitably interfere with each other when used in the same place at the same time. with each having the capability to do some of the things the other does. low-power.11 is about ten times that of Bluetooth technology. Let's face it: Bluetooth wireless communication is optimized by design for WPANs. There is some potential overlap in a few usage models between the two technologies. Bluetooth technology for wireless PANs Bluetooth technology was invented to replace cables between small personal devices (mobile phones.4 GHz spectrum. 3. Among the benefits are limits on the transmission power and measures required to deal with RF interference. Complementary wireless technologies The preceding sections highlighted several differences between WLAN and WPAN technologies. thus.developerWorks: Wireless : The phony conflict relatively high data rate. it seems puzzling the two technologies would be perceived as competing with each other. namely IEEE 802. in turn.11 is optimized by design for WLANs.11 and Bluetooth technologies can interfere with each other. Other wireless technologies operate here. G Raw data rate: The data rate for Bluetooth communications is about one-tenth that of IEEE 802. pagers. Although this doesn't necessarily mean that Bluetooth communication uses only 1% of the power required for WLAN communication.ibm. Hence. we see the two technologies as complementary to each other -. albeit non-optimally. WPANs are used to connect personal devices within a small area. pagers. PDAs. weaknesses in the other's domain. A primary consideration for any technology that operates in this band is that it must expect RF interference and implement measures to deal with it.4 GHz spectrum and.11 for a WPAN. it is an attractive band for wireless communication technologies that can operate within the constraints imposed by the spectrum. It is a WPAN technology -.

there is no support for general IP networking like that used with IEEE 802. And finally.11 could be implemented. on the other hand.11. is the notion that LAN technologies are not particularly well suited for the kinds of interactions that typically occur in PANs. garage door openers. is used by many technologies and devices. Conclusion WWANs.11 lead to relatively high power consumption. namely WLAN. the single WPAN solution seriously considered for adoption as an IEEE 802. Bluetooth profiles do define methods that allow Bluetooth devices to access networks. Both technologies can succeed on their http://www-106. high-priority manner and uses a robust voice encoding scheme that is quite tolerant of lost packets.15 working group that deals with WPAN solutions. The Bluetooth specification includes methods for detecting new devices that come into proximity and allowing these devices to join Bluetooth piconets seamlessly. and groups within the IEEE and the Bluetooth SIG are performing studies and developing recommendations to understand and address this and other issues related to RF interference. Furthermore. There is no competition to determine a "winner" and a "loser" here. 900 MHz. IEEE 802. This action by the IEEE underscores the differences between WLANs and WPANs and emphasizes the importance of Bluetooth wireless technology as a leading WPAN standard. neither organization takes the position that they are competing for the same solution space. although these important WLAN and WPAN technologies are specified by different industry groups (the IEEE and the Bluetooth SIG.4 GHz spectrum. there is some evidence that there is room for several players in the 2. the IEEE itself makes a distinction between WLANs and WPANs similar to the one in this discussion.11 is not the preferred technology for WPAN applications (indeed. In a WPAN. Another unlicensed band. Why the separate factions? As far as the overlap of technologies goes.1 WPAN standard. IEEE 802. devices may come and go frequently and the PAN may join or collaborate with other networks in proximity as the WPAN user moves about.11 be a viable PAN solution? Perhaps it could. Indeed.15 standard is a subset of the Bluetooth specification! The portion of the Bluetooth technology that is applicable in the scope of IEEE 802 standards (essentially the PHY and MAC layers of the ISO stack) is currently well on its way toward adoption as the IEEE 802. Conversely.developerWorks: Wireless : The phony conflict either technology fails when subjected to normal (or even extreme) interference from the other. The same design points that make them well suited for their primary intended purposes make them less well-suited for other applications.11 and Bluetooth wireless technologies are optimized for different purposes in different domains -. Another consideration in the WPAN domain is that many small personal devices do not include robust networking components such as an IP stack. Performance degradation often is an effect of RF interference. The common IP-based language of the Internet is widely deployed. baby monitors. respectively. and WPANs have distinctly different requirements. For example. and although it could transfer voice traffic using methods such as voice-over IP. the IEEE is defining its own WPAN standard based on the Bluetooth specification). is based upon proximity networking. though.11 working group addresses WLAN solutions. LANs tend to be better suited for stationary networks. Bluetooth wireless communication is not a full-blown networking technology.WLAN and WPAN. but low-power.11 were used for WPANs. Bluetooth wireless technology is not a robust networking technology. some characteristics would lead to a less-than-optimal solution if IEEE 802. and the technologies best suited for each of them have different characteristics. for example. It is well known that the IEEE 802. speak their own data communications language. Moreover. respectively). or at least networks where the participants move rather infrequently. use protocols developed by the WAP Forum to access networks. it doesn't carry voice natively in the way Bluetooth technology does. but these are limited to the use of point-to-point protocol (PPP) for dial-up networking or LAN access. It exploits Internet protocols. short-range versions of IEEE 802. WLANs. often owing to constraints on memory and processing power. but many small devices.15.ibm. and others. but because it is optimized for a different domain. the quality of voice traffic might be inferior as compared to Bluetooth technology. and no single technology has crowded out the others. which delivers voice packets in an expedited.11 is a wireless networking standard. In version 1. Could a low-power variant of IEEE 802. Many mobile phones.com/developerworks/library/wi-phone/ (4 of 5) [10/11/2001 8:44:56 PM] .x. Bluetooth technology. IEEE 802. The IEEE 802 working groups and the Bluetooth SIG have a cooperative relationship and are working together on the issue of coexistence in the spectrum they share. The range and data rates of IEEE 802. such as cordless phones. but the IEEE also has an 802. Perhaps more important.

Andrew Orlowski. Bluetooth. by Matt Hamblen. 2001. Part 1: Where to begin and Bluetooth revealed. Brent has been involved in several mobile computing industry consortia and task forces including chairing the Service Discovery task force of the Bluetooth SIG's Software Working group. Bluetooth not at war with 802. Intel apologises for Bluetooth gaffe. The Register.ibm. You can read other articles Brent has written on Bluetooth technology here on developerWorks such as Bluetooth revealed. October 9. mobile computers. Fortune magazine. August 13. His pervasive computing interests include adaptivity. November 2001. Read the following white papers by Brent Miller and other contributors on the IBM Pervasive Computing Web site: H Salutation Service Discovery in Pervasive Computing Environments H H G G G Bluetooth Applications in Pervasive Computing Discovering devices and services in home networking About the author Brent A. Prentice Hall PTR. He is co-author of the book Bluetooth Revealed. not bad (3) Needs work (2) Lame! (1) Submit feedback About IBM | Privacy | Legal | Contact http://www-106.developerWorks: Wireless : The phony conflict own merits without detriment to the other. USA. Miller is a senior software engineer in IBM's Software Solutions Division in Research Triangle Park.11b. Part 2: Is there a Bluetooth killer app? Brent also publishes on the IBM Pervasive Computing Web site. NC. ComputerWorld. August 29. He has led several firmware and software development teams in printers. Second Edition. he has published several papers and holds several patents in these areas. CNET News. Ericsson says. September 10.com/developerworks/library/wi-phone/ (5 of 5) [10/11/2001 8:44:56 PM] .ibm. in Computer and Information Science from Ohio State University. G G Bye-bye. He holds a B. by Brent A. and network computing. power management and service discovery. Miller and Chatschik Bisdikian.com. Bluetooth Revealed: The Insider's Guide to an Open Specification for Global Wireless Communications. by Michael Kanellos. says Intel Executive. What do you think of this article? Killer! (5) Comments? Good stuff (4) So-so. It's a phony conflict. *Note: The author acknowledges and thanks Chatschik Bisdikian of IBM Research for his review of and input to this article. He can be reached at bamiller@us. published by Prentice-Hall in September 2000.S. Resources G Bluetooth has lost. printing. by William Gurley.