Bluetooth: What does it really do and will it be replaced?

A look at the ins and outs of Bluetooth and what its future holds

So could Wi-Fi Direct replace Bluetooth? Perhaps. Bluetooth still has the low energy market cornered as the power consumption of Wi-Fi Direct is much higher than BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). Meaning fitness devices such as heart rate monitors and other small, low power devices will continue to favour Bluetooth.

But for many other things and particularly for anything that involves large amounts of data being transferred, Wi-Fi Direct could become a more desirable option as it can transfer data at much higher speeds.

Take off

It's taking off fast too, according to Hanzlik "to date over 4200 products have been certified for Wi-Fi Direct. From smartphones to printers, Blu-ray players to fitness devices, all types of products are implementing Wi-Fi Direct to allow users to seamlessly connect devices wherever and whenever they wish."

There are other threats on the horizon too. For example a research team at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University has created a chipset called 'VIRTUS', which they claim can wirelessly transfer data at 2 gigabits per second.

VIRTUS chipset

That equates to 80 MP3 songs every second, making it around 1,000 times faster than Bluetooth. Whether the chipset will ever make it into consumer products remains to be seen, but if it does it could be a real threat to Bluetooth, though like Wi-Fi Direct it lacks Bluetooth's low energy support.

Hazy future

Bluetooth isn't going away any time soon. In fact the recent update to version 4.1 has prepared it for a whole new generation of smart devices and could lead to it becoming a vital piece of infrastructure for the Internet of Things, but it's not the only wireless technology around.

Any technology which can both provide higher data transfer speeds than Bluetooth and use as little power as Bluetooth low energy could render Bluetooth obsolete.

It's still going strong after 20 years and right now there's nothing that quite ticks all the boxes Bluetooth does.

Jawanda is certainly optimistic about its prospects, arguing that if anything, Bluetooth is actually replacing other wireless technologies, saying that "given the advent of Bluetooth Smart – it's performance, low cost, simplicity and ubiquity – it's become the preferred wireless technology for OEMs to replace niche or proprietary technologies that prevented them from hitting scale and working with the phones/tablets/PCs their customers already owned."

"If you want to connect your device to a few things, you can use Bluetooth or other proprietary or niche technologies to do so. If you want to connect to a few billion devices your customer probably already has in the palm of their hand, then Bluetooth and Bluetooth Smart is the technology.

The fact is, Bluetooth Smart is the fastest adopted wireless technology in the history of wireless and the native OS support and massive and growing network effect is what's behind this." But with the likes of Wi-Fi Direct encroaching on it Bluetooth may still need to be wary.

On the other hand, there's little reason for any other wireless technology to try and overthrow Bluetooth, when it could just as well be complementing it.

Hunter explains that "it is best to think of wireless technologies as tools in a solution developer's toolbox. Everyone benefits when developers have a rich and robust set of tools to choose from. The application or use case dictates which tool or combination of tools to use.

"No one tool is inherently better than or can replace another, any more than the hex screw is better than or will replace the Phillips screw. Developers will choose to use NFC, Bluetooth, a combination, or a completely different wireless technology depending on the requirements of the application and the desired user experience."