Wi-Fi Direct and Bluetooth 4.0 Rev Up Short Range Networking

Carl Weinschenk

A potentially important advance in Wi-Fi networking was made this week as the Wi-Fi Alliance certified its first Wi-Fi Direct products.


Several sites, such as CNET News and ZDNet provide good descriptions of Wi-Fi Direct. Until now, Wi-Fi-enabled devices had a couple of ways to connect. In "infrastructure mode," devices link to access points (APs), which send signals to a central aggregation point, to another device or elsewhere. In "ad hoc" mode, device could link to each other-but slowly, and only at close range.


Wi-Fi Direct offers the best of both worlds. It allows direct device-to-device connectivity at the speed and distance of infrastructure mode. In addition, the initial connection is made by pressing a single button. The story lists the approved products, which are from Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, Ralink and Realtek.


Network World, which pegs Wi-Fi Direct at 250 Megabits per second (Mbps), asks whether the new spec will complement or compete with Bluetooth 4.0, which it says will be available in products soon. Writer Ian Paul describes Bluetooth 4.0 and makes several comparisons.


  • Wi-Fi Direct is, on paper, 10 times as faster (25 Mbps versus 250 Mbps). Paul cautions that Wi-Fi Direct speeds have not yet been verified in the real world.
  • Wi-Fi Direct wins the distance competition, 656 feet to about 200 feet, though that again only is on paper.
  • On security, Bluetooth 4.0, the story says, uses Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 128-bit encryption, while Wi-Fi Direct uses Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2). WPA2 includes 256-bit encryption.
  • It's a bit unclear which standard will use less power.
  • Wi-Fi Direct can connect to any Wi-Fi device, while Bluetooth 4.0 seems to face some tricky backwards compatibility issues.
  • Finally, Wi-Fi Direct, with the announcement made this week, is first out of the gate. Bluetooth 4.0 is due this year or early next.


To ZDNet's Dana Blankenhorn, the jury still is out on the importance of Wi-Fi Direct:

What it doesn't do is change the communication landscape appreciably. You still need backhaul to get a Wi-Fi signal to the Internet. Building an ad hoc network inside the coffee shop doesn't let you reach the wider world.


While that's the story now, he suggests that innovations could follow.

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