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March 20, 2006

Bluetooth's Mobile Handshake

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Bluetooth technology has gotten a bad rap over the years because of the perception that it's plagued by security flaws. But the ability to work with small devices, transfer up to 720 Kbps of data, and transmit waves through walls has earned it a place in many businesses' tech infrastructures.

Full package info is just a reach away.

Full package info is just a reach away.
Among them is , where package loaders wear ring scanners that read bar-code data and transfer it via Bluetooth to terminals they wear on their waists. Then, using wireless LAN access points deployed throughout UPS's buildings, data is sent to a global scanning system, which stores all of the information on packages. Buildings are connected via landlines to one of two UPS data centers.

The ring scanners previously were connected to the waist terminals by a cable, but problems such as cables snapping would interrupt data transfer, says John Killeen, UPS's director of global network services. Bluetooth is ideal for UPS because it has to keep the devices very small and light, Killeen says.

If a customer wants a printed receipt of everything UPS is picking up or delivering, the UPS employee will scan the packages using the DIAD, short for Delivery Information Acquisition Device, which can transmit information obtained from the bar code on the package label to a customer's Bluetooth-enabled printer.

Bluetooth technology isn't tough to get. Nearly 40% of mobile devices sold on store shelves had it built in last year, up from 20% the year before, according to research firm Current Analysis. Global shipments of Bluetooth-enabled devices reached 318 million in 2005, compared with 30 million in 2002, according to research and consulting firm Burton Group.

Headsets and cell phones with Bluetooth are becoming more affordable for cell phone users who want hands-free communication. Bluetooth-enabled cell phones can be had for less than $100. Most major carriers, including Cingular, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless, let customers use Bluetooth on their cellular networks; in the past, most of them restricted its use.

Bluetooth also is being integrated into cars, letting drivers use a car's speakers for conversing with a caller. The technology first appeared in BMWs and other high-end cars, but now can be found in Toyotas and Hondas.

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