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Are there Bluetooth features we should require in our computing devices?

What should we be looking for in computing devices that we buy with Bluetooth support? Are there are any new Bluetooth security, performance, or capability features that we should be requiring our vendors to meet in laptops, PDAs, and peripherals?

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Look for products that support Bluetooth Version 2.0 or 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate). The newest specification, Version 2.1 + EDR, was completed this summer and provides two main enhancements:

  • Bluetooth pairing has been both simplified and strengthened to resist man-in-the-middle attacks. Version 2.1 pairing is based on either a user-entered passkey or near-field communication between devices held close together during the pairing process. The old concept of unit keys has been deprecated, and a new five-step "secure simple pairing" process has been introduced.
  • Version 2.1 adds a new feature called Sniff Subrating to extend battery life in many smaller Bluetooth devices. Sniff Subrating reduces the active duty cycle of Bluetooth devices like keyboards and mice to improve power-saving capabilities. Bluetooth hosts can now specify maximum transmit and receive latencies so that low-power devices can know how often they must exit and re-enter "sniff mode." This can result in up to five times the battery life experienced by older low-power Bluetooth devices.

Both Version 2.0 and 2.1 support EDR, a faster PSK modulation scheme that can transmit data at 2 or 3 Mbps, as compared to the older basic rate GFSK modulation scheme that transmitted at 1 Mbps. Although most existing Bluetooth devices implement Version 1.1 or 1.2, next year you should really be looking for Version 2.0 or 2.1 + EDR in new products so that you can start taking advantage of these improvements.

This was first published in December 2007

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