RIP Bluetooth. Wi-Fi Direct is here.


So long Bluetooth. It was fun while you were around, and we sure will miss you. But now we have something better. And the old has to make way for the new.

A technology that has been in demand for ages is finally here – Wi-Fi Direct. It does exactly what the name suggests – makes a direct connection between two Wi-Fi enabled devices, with no router required.

Tech pundits and the smart breed of consumers were flabbergasted at the lack of this technology. Why is it that Wi-Fi enabled devices can connect to the world via a router, but not directly to a device sitting next to it? The Wi-Fi alliance has now finally created an open standard called the Wi-Fi Direct (Press Release).

Most phones today already have a WLAN card and a Bluetooth card. Both perform similar functions – connectivity. So it is actually rudimentary to have two different cards. Wi-Fi Direct now aims to replace Bluetooth entirely.

The best part of the news? Wi-Fi Alliance has already started certifying devices. More good news? Since the technology is mostly software-based, it might just be possible to upgrade your old devices! And even if the Alliance doesn’t allow old devices to be upgraded, new Wi-Fi Direct enabled devices can still connect to older, non-Wi-Fi Direct devices.

At its heart, Wi-Fi direct isn’t much different from Bluetooth, which requires one device to set up the connection (master, in technical terms) and other devices then connect to it (slaves). Phones can only connect to one other device at a time, a severe limitation of the technology (Note that Nluetooth itself does allow more than one simultaneous connection, at the cost of more complexity and power consumption).

It’s a little surprising that the technology took so long. True, both technologies are vastly different in their design. It would be tough to make Bluetooth do what Wi-Fi does. But making Wi-Fi do what Bluetooth does should have been simpler. One of the reasons might have been the battle between CSIRO, the patent holder on Wireless LAN technology, and the industry majors like Apple, Dell, Intel, Microsoft and others. It was officially over in April of 2009, a little over a year ago.

The delay becomes even more surprising once you realize that more than a few devices today are already using a similar technology! Bluetooth 3.0, which promises speeds of 24 mbps, doesn’t really offer that speed over the Bluetooth link. The Bluetooth card is used to simply establish a connection. At the time of data transfer, control is cleverly handed over to the WLAN card. This sneaky tactic makes people believe that Bluetooth is becoming faster. But it could get away with this for so long because WLAN cards couldn’t establish a connection directly to other devices. Now, with Wi-Fi direct, the function of the Bluetooth card is redundant.

Now that it is here, what next? How long before Bluetooth flies out the window? Considering that Bluetooth cards and WLAN cards don’t have a world of difference in their cost, it is unlikely that Bluetooth will stay around for much longer. Earlier, manufacturers making low-cost devices, when faced with a choice to put either a WLAN card or a Bluetooth card in devices, used to choose Bluetooth for a variety of reasons. Now, however, one card performs two functions.

Besides, Wi-Fi Direct will give much higher speeds than Bluetooth can manage. Those working on Bluetooth readily acknowledge this, which is why the sneaky tactic in Bluetooth 3.0. So get ready for gaming with your friends in the same room, instead of having to go online. Also get ready for much faster, more secure (Wi-Fi direct uses WPA2 encryption algorithm), and easier file transfers.

The future, people, is Direct!

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