Ah the classic, timeless battles — Godzilla vs. King Kong, VHS vs. Betamax, Apple vs. IBM, and Louis vs. Schmeling, to name a few. And now, along comes Bluetooth vs. 802.11.

Of late, and probably due, in part, to the general malaise of the high-tech industry, there has been little to get excited about with either technology. But, in all fairness, this segment of the market seems to be the lead dog in the pack. That could bode well once the recovery gets up ahead of steam.

Depending on which side you work for… — As an editor, I am presented with a lot of soap boxing. Sometimes it's promotional; sometimes it's competitor bashing. Occasionally, it's even honest. I want to think I can sort through it all and grasp what is really going on.

Wi-Fi says… — If you're in the 802.11 (also known as Wi-Fi) camp, there has been a pretty steady stream of visible 802.11b (the 2.4 gig) stuff. Almost every week, I see advertisements for wireless LAN (WLAN) products in flyers and on the shelves of technosuperstores. This tells me that this technology has reached a couple of milestones. First, it actually seems to work. Second, it has met a price point that consumers seem to accept (although this consumer still thinks a $200 access point is a bit high, but it can be found for less if you are a prudent Internet shopper).

Wi-Fi looks solid in performance, at least from what people who play with it tell me. It appears interference-resistant and reliable. Like most wireless technologies, however, its distance claims are greatly exaggerated.

But if I had to play the pessimist, I'd say that Wi-Fi may be sorry down the road for having such a narrow focus (after all, the “E” in WECA, the Wi-Fi sanctioning alliance, stands for Ethernet). In the drive to become the defacto W-LAN standard, it may paint itself too tightly into the WLAN corner. It may backfire down the road if there is any inkling of challenging Bluetooth, HomeRF or WAP. WLAN may be its mantra but…Oh well, maybe I'm just thinking out loud.

Bluetooth says… — Last year Bluetooth was probably the most overhyped technology since digital TV (DTV). It just didn't do what it was supposed to (although eventually, it and DTV will). We all know about its insufficient speed and range, high power consumption, too much interference, security issues and a need for system designers using BT chips to know RF technology. It was also touted as all things to all applications.

Well, reality has set in and the Bluetooth camp has put the binders on while looking for a workable position. I think it may have found it as a low-cost cable replacement. I would love to have Bluetooth as a link between my digital camera and my computer. Or as an ad-hoc, mobile interconnect between my laptop, desktop, camera, MP3 (ugh!) player, PDA, cellphone and wireless headphones.

I think this is where the money is. And, I'm seeing some Bluetooth devices start to appear that support some of these.

I also still think Bluetooth has the opportunity to corner the smart appliance market. It has better name recognition and support than HomeRF or WAP, but taking lessons from the early mobile phone market, the industry will have to show the consumer the value of smart appliances (and that it won't substantially add to the appliance's price) before this gets hot.

Finally, I think Bluetooth can evolve into the wireless networking arena (it's already aiming for the personal area network (PAN) niche). It won't be as robust as WLAN, especially when WLAN data rates climb into the 50+ Mb/s level, but it offers promise for the wired home (as a PAN). Bluetooth, however, must ice its black eyes and prove itself. The next generation of Bluetooth looks like it will be based on the IEEE's 802.15.3 standard, offering 20 Mb/s data rates and backward compatibility with current Bluetooth technology. It's good that there is movement in that direction. I think it is necessary. It will solve some of the Bluetooth issues and offer a wider platform.

Ern says… — I believe 2002 will be a critical year for both of these technologies (but only if, like the pundits say, the recovery starts this year — personally, late this year, if at all). However, opportunity knocks. The Bluetooth and WLAN alliances have a breather. They can take this lull and use it to refine, develop and tighten the technology so that when it does pop, their horses are fed and hot. Maybe King Kong and Godzilla can coexist.