Published In March 2001
The realm of electrical contractors has been an ever-evolving one. Long gone are the days when installing electrical systems encompassed most of one’s time. The surge in popularity of data and voice communications created opportunities for electrical contractors. Electrical contractors have become the leaders in the telecommunications industry because they have been running cable the longest. Customers and clients also benefit from using electrical contractors as a one-stop shop––having their electrical and telecommunications needs met by one party makes things easier all around. This makes it imperative for electrical contractors to keep up with the latest communications applications technology. Perhaps the biggest change within the communications field has been consumers pushing for wireless local area network (LAN) applications. This is probably due to the mass marketing of such technologies. The concept appeals to end-users because it is, perhaps, the only other option to having cable run. Prior to the wireless “revolution,” the only way to update and enhance one’s communications capabilities was to install new networking systems. The basis for these systems has always been the cable, which often means that the slower cable would be replaced with high-speed application cable. This change would generally involve replacing cable, which could be not only expensive, but time consuming as well. Wireless systems came along, and have been steadily growing in usage. This is because the alleviation of the cable itself makes for a lower-cost, faster installation. Anything that is purported to be low cost and fast usually catches the eye of end users who are bound by budget constraints. Wireless has been surging as an industry of its own. Numerous contractors design and install wireless systems exclusively. This seems to divert telecommunications and data cabling business away from electrical contractors. It is imperative, then, for electrical contractors to be able to offer wireless solution services. This is feasible, because wireless theory is comparable with that which dictates traditional cabling methods. One increasingly popular wireless LAN methodology is Bluetooth. “Bluetooth” is actually considered to be a “code name,” used to describe the actual technology be-hind the wireless solution that uses short-wave radio frequencies for op-eration. Bluetooth can be used in not only voice and data applications, but also in home entertainment systems. The gist of Bluetooth technology is that all the devices that are generally linked together with cable—computers, printers, PDAs, TVs, VCRs, etc.—can be connected by using no cable at all. This is because a small microchip, which houses capabilities similar to a radio transceiver, is built into each component. This microchip, which allows for wireless applications to be easily attained, then operates off of radio waves (unlicensed) that allow for worldwide reception. Since the “chips” are built in, the connectivity is almost instantaneous. Bluetooth applications operate at a frequency of 2.45 gigahertz and the devices themselves (those that house the infamous chip) only send out signals around the 1 milliwatt level. This is a pretty weak signal, so the devices would have to be less than 10 meters apart in order for the wireless portion to work. “Bluetooth” seems to be the new buzzword, and with good reason. Bluetooth technology is not only the newest standard in wireless LANs, but it also has a powerhouse backing it up. Nine companies back the technology: 3Com Corporation, Ericsson, IBM Corporation, Intel Corporation, Lucent Technologies, Microsoft Corporation, Motorola Inc., Nokia, and Toshiba Corporation. The list reads almost like a “who’s who” within the high-tech arena. This group, called the Bluetooth Promoter Group, has been formed to promote the worldwide use of Bluetooth technology. This is possible because the technology uses radio waves, which can be detected and used virtually anywhere. These companies, many of whom seem to be direct competitors, have banded together to ensure that the Bluetooth standard is kept constant. Since wireless is still a relatively new concept, fewer rules and regulations bind it as do traditional cabling methods. This could lead to discrepancies between systems. This also helps new wireless installers by giving them a definite scope to work within. It almost seems too good to be true. So will Cat 5 cable will become obsolete? Probably not. Remember when everyone thought that fiber to the desk would be the solution to end all solutions? Few end users jumped on board. (Many opted out due to the high cost, whereas Bluetooth is low cost.) It is quite difficult to sell new technology to customers, especially when there are fewer case histories to present to strengthen your sales pitch. Bluetooth’s weak signal makes it unlikely that cable will be phased out altogether. But, for small office settings or household applications, Bluetooth may be the answer to a contractor’s worst nightmare—having to run cable in tight, inaccessible areas. All ECs should familiarize themselves with Bluetooth. Since it is almost a self-installing system, it is worth it to be able to offer it as a solution to customers. It is difficult to talk someone out of something that they want, and with the industry giants backing this particular technology, someone will inevitably ask you to work on a project involving Bluetooth. Despite low installer participation with Bluetooth, it could be incorporated into a bigger project. And since it is a fairly easy-to-understand application, it is wise for at least one team member to understand this concept. It is hard to predict how far Bluetooth will go in the everyday world, but with the companies involved in the technology, it is worth exploring this methodology as an option that you can present to customers who may have already heard of it. The media seems to love Bluetooth and the companies associated with it, so it is probably only a matter of time before someone asks you, “So, what’s with this whole Bluetooth thing?” STONG is a freelance writer based in Middletown, Penn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.