Is Wi-Fi Bluetooth's Death Knell?

Chris Silva
The recent announcement by Ozmo Devices of its
plan to enable Wi-Fi as a Personal Area Network (PAN) technology at Computex in Taipei last week
shows a non-networking future for the wireless networking standard. Ozmo,
backed in part by chip giant Intel, will look to build the capability into
future peripheral devices to make use of a laptop or desktop’s existing Wi-Fi
radio (some software updates will be required) to use the Wi-Fi radio as a
higher-bandwidth, low power consumption alternative to Bluetooth, the current
technology most often associated with PAN. The company claims a 2.25x
improvement in battery life, from 4 hours on Bluetooth to nine hours on Wi-Fi, for
a mouse as one metric of power savings.

Depending on the scale the Ozmo technology can achieve in terms of number and type of
peripheral devices, the idea could lower bill of materials (BOM) cost for
mobile devices such as laptops by reducing the need for a second Bluetooth
radio in the wireless stack -- if it catches on. Another cited cost savings, on
the peripheral side, is that using Wi-Fi allows manufacturers to eschew the
requisite dongle included with most Bluetooth devices today.

Wi-Fi may be a reasonable option for PANs given its ubiquity however, the resource has its
own problems. Already taxed to simply provide adequate throughput on
802.11a,b,g networks, connecting more devices and further taxing Wi-Fi may not
be the best option. It is worth noting, however, that network throughput and
connected devices are able to coexist on the Wi-Fi radio. However, as an
additional use of an existing piece of technology resident in many devices, I
award Ozmo points for creativity and for choosing a strong partner Intel.

The ability to use Wi-Fi as PAN technology will not likely have a major effect on
enterprise IT departments, nor should it. In the enterprise, the ability to use
Ozmo’s technology will come later as a life-extender for the Wi-Fi radio in
devices. In the interim, the solution will primarily appeal to consumers and
business users that are funding their own wireless peripheral device purchases
for home and office use. Long term, I expect Ozmo to work with device manufacturers
to use the technology as a battery metric enhancer (and important tenet of
mobility to marketing within companies like Intel) and also as a way to extend
the life of the Wi-Fi radio in devices nearing the end of their refresh cycle. Picture
this, as marketing for mobile devices focuses on built-in, faster, licensed
technologies like WiMAX and LTE, Ozmo will cast Wi-Fi radios in a new light,
for Wi-Fi PANs extending their relevance. Expect Intel and device manufacturers to use this angle to sell the
enterprise IT shops on upcoming WiFi/WiMax combined wireless stacks as a means
of messaging around these more expensive machines as somewhat "future proof."

By Chris Silva

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