Thursday, November 23, 2006

Make Bluetooth work in the enterprise

Bluetooth products have a certain cachet. They are sexy and smart-looking, they are small and they can be fun to use. But supporting them from an enterprise IT perspective can be a real toothache, and may require some significant extractions, or at least careful planning.
Bluetooth is short-range wireless, meaning it covers a range of about 25 feet. Its most popular implementation has been hands-free headsets for cell phones, and indeed there are dozens of models to choose from, some of which are quite good. The headsets from Jabra, for example, are akin to jewelry and some are so small that it's easy to forget you've got one on your ear. If all you're doing is using a headset on your phone (a process called "pairing"), then these products are pretty solid.
But if you want to do more than have a cute headset for your cell phone users, you will quickly find that there is no real standard. Sure, there are plenty of phrases that look like standards. Just take a look at this acronym soup:
A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution)
AVRCP (Audio Video Remote Control)
BIP (Basic Imaging Profile)
OPP (Object Push Profile)
HSP (Headset profile)
HFP (Hands-free profile)
GOEP (Generic Object Exchange Profile)
Lack of support for different profiles Not every Bluetooth product supports every profile, and some of these - like A2DP which is used to send stereo sound to a headset -- are still being worked on and are particularly problematic.
Well, that is just the start of how hairy Bluetooth is. Some Bluetooth USB dongles - not to mention the built-in Bluetooth support in desktops and laptops - don't support all the various profiles, so you could get into a situation where you have a Bluetooth keyboard that doesn't talk to your PC, but a headset that does, with the same dongle. Or, you have a Bluetooth keyboard that installs software that gets in the way of a Bluetooth headset, because the two devices support different profiles. This isn't yet a consumer-friendly place to be, let alone an enterprise IT friendly place.
Multiple devices makes a headache The next issue is when you pair the same Bluetooth part with multiple devices, such as cell phones and computers, or you want to do more than have a remote headset. Then you have to rely on the PC makers' different implementations of Bluetooth protocol support. On my year-old Dell laptop, its built-in Bluetooth adapter was almost worthless and could barely connect with anything. I found after looking at more than a dozen products that many of them worked fine as long as I used the Bluetooth USB dongle that came with the product.


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