One of the problems in today's modern office is trying to get all the various digital devices to connect together quickly and seamlessly. With the old serial ports on PCs, users would have to physically plug the computer into a printer or keyboard. It used to be that wires ran everywhere -- beneath desks, under carpet, even up along the walls.

Then Wi-Fi came along. That standard let some businesses start cutting the cords, creating wireless networks for the office. But Wi-Fi has its own problems such as interference from the other wireless devices, and the fact that a Wi-Fi network can be easier for outsiders to access, opening a hole in your computer systems' defenses.

Now Bluetooth has come along to fill the void, particularly for smaller or home offices with fewer employees that can operate on a wireless personal area network (PAN).

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is named for the 10th century Danish King Harald Bluetooth, an orator of the day who managed to get warring parities to find common ground. The good king was a master of diplomacy and was known to get negotiations started. Thus the Bluetooth wireless protocol is an apt name as it gets devices those “never easily connected” devices to come together quite easily as well. Bluetooth is also known as the IEEE 802.15.1, an industrial standard for wireless PANs. What it does is provide a way to exchange information between devices, such as laptops, PCs, printers, PDAs and mobile phones across a secure, unlicensed short-range radio frequency.

For business users, “The primary advantage of Bluetooth is the convenience of eliminating wires,” says Brian O’Rourke, senior analyst for In-Stat, a Scottsdale, Ariz. market research firm.

How Does Bluetooth Work?

Essentially Bluetooth is a radio and communications protocol that works best with low power consumption devices such as PDAs, mobile phones, headsets and digital cameras. When these devices come within range of each other they can communicate, but they do not necessarily have to have true line of sight so the devices can even be in adjacent rooms – provided the power is strong enough. There are actually three classes of Bluetooth transmission power, and the range can vary from one meter up to 100 meters.

Bluetooth is optimized for short-range, point-to-point communication,” says O’Rourke, adding that this wireless protocol works well as communication protocol in a small space. “It is best suited for scenarios such as mobile phone - headset, or game controller - game console. Wi-Fi is a networking technology, optimized for higher data rate, longer range applications.”

How Can You Use It In Business?

Bluetooth is not meant to replace Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11), which does use the same radio frequencies but with much higher power consumption. It is rather for those situations when you have two or more devices that will be used in close proximity. The downside to Bluetooth is that it doesn’t offer high bandwidth, so even sending large photo files from a laptop to a printer can take longer than it would with a Wi-Fi or wired printer. And because it uses short-range radio frequencies, Bluetooth is not meant for setting up networks that can be accessed from remote locations.

But the technology is ideal for use with cell phones for transferring data from the handset to a computer, and for using a wireless headset or earpiece. Bluetooth is also perfect for workers who need to travel around in an automobile. They can use a mobile hands-free kit, with which the phone can be used with the existing speaker system. “Bluetooth wireless technology is available in a wide range of hands-free devices on the market today,” says Michael Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG. “While headsets are the most popular, many people are enjoying the benefits of hands-free systems built into their cars and wireless stereo headphones that stream stereo quality music and double as a headset for your mobile phone.”

Bluetooth is also used with PC input devices such as a mouse and keyboard, where the keyboard becomes the central hub for additional Bluetooth devices, such as a printer or digital camera. Essentially Bluetooth technology can replace standard infrared or RF connections, while also letting users cut the cord for devices such as PDAs and mobile phones for the transfer of small files. And because Bluetooth devices connect quickly without additional software in most cases you won’t feel like you have to battle with your PC to start the “negotiations.” King Harald would be proud.