Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

From Bluetooth To 4G: What All Those Wireless Terms Really Mean

Wireless technology is evolving in ways we once only dreamed about, giving us fast connectivity from almost anywhere. But it is also devolving into a stew of acronyms and arcane trade names that sometimes confuse even those in the know.

Wireless Technology Guide

• Short-Range Wireless

    - Bluetooth

    - UWB

    - NFC And ZigBee

• Medium-Range Wireless

    - Wi-Fi

    - Wireless Mesh

• Wide-Area Wireless Networks

    - 3G Service

    - 4G And Wireless Broadband

"If this alphabet soup of names is confusing for industry people like me, I can't imagine what it's like for consumers," said Derek Kerton, principal of The Kerton Group, a wireless and mobile telecommunications consulting firm.

Kerton said it's helpful for users to understand the trade names and acronyms so they know what they're buying. But, he stressed, it's much more important -- and difficult -- to understand the risks, rewards and limitations of the various wireless technologies.

Since you won't always get straight answers to those questions from the vendors, here's a rundown of the most widely discussed wireless technologies and how they may -- or may not -- benefit you.

Short-Range Wireless

Short-range wireless simplifies the task of connecting one device to another, eliminating the tangle of cords and enabling you to roam away from those devices while you use them. While distances may vary based on different chipsets and impediments such as walls, these short-range wireless technologies typically have an optimal maximum range of 30 meters or less.

Named after a 10th-century Danish king who united warring factions in Scandanavia, Bluetooth is a classic case of an overnight success that took years to occur. The first products with built-in Bluetooth came to market with great fanfare in 2000. From the start, lots of devices like cell phones were Bluetooth-equipped.

  • 1