A Bluetooth® modem provides wireless dial-up connectivity to Bluetooth®-enabled devices when standard WiFi and broadband access is unavailable. Operating at speeds up to 56 kilobits per second (kbps), a dial-up modem can be a good, inexpensive back-up option at home or while traveling.
A standard dial-up modem is a small device that features a line-in RJ-45 jack for telephone service and a line-out jack for connecting to a computer. Software on the computer configures the dial-up modem to call an access number provided by an Internet Service Provider (ISP). A contract for service must be previously arranged with the ISP. The dial-up modem supplies credentials, or a username and password, and the ISP makes the Internet available to the connected computer until the user instructs the modem to hang up the connection.
A Bluetooth® modem works the same way except that rather than having a physical line-out jack that connects to a computer, the Bluetooth® modem broadcasts Internet access wirelessly using Bluetooth® network protocols over radio frequency (RF) waves. Any Bluetooth®-enabled device within range can jump on to the Bluetooth® network and gain Internet access, including a laptop, desktop, pocket-PC, or personal digital assistant (PDA).
There are three main advantages to owning a Bluetooth® modem. First, it provides Internet access to an entire personal area network (PAN), making it possible to connect more than one Bluetooth® device. Secondly, connected devices do not need to be tethered to the dial-up modem. Instead, the user can enjoy online access over a PDA, for example, while walking up to 300 feet (~100 meters) away, depending on the model. Finally, a Bluetooth® modem will ensure you always have Internet access, as dial-up remains the most widespread, reliable source of online access.
The disadvantage of a Bluetooth® modem is speed, a limitation of dial-up technology itself. Dial-up modems cannot relay data faster than 56 kbps, with actual data rates typically closer to 48-52 kbps. Downloading a single Megabyte can take three or more minutes. It might also be noted that RF technology can interfere with, or receive interference from other RF networks in the area, including those created by cordless phones.
Even with these disadvantages a Bluetooth® modem can be very handy when traveling, as most ISPs that provide dial-up service offer national access numbers making toll-free calls possible from most areas. Some Bluetooth® modems also come with special software for configuring the modem to connect internationally, ideal for global travelers. All external models come with a power adapter, but many can also run off batteries, some using rechargeables.
Internal Bluetooth® modems are also available for laptops and desktops. An internal model is installed inside the computer and requires a phone line be connected to the computer. In this case, wireless connectivity is only available to satellite devices. If you desire the computer to be untethered as well, an external Bluetooth® modem is required.
External Bluetooth® modems enjoyed a greater degree of popularity in the early 2000s before Bluetooth®-enabled cell phones became ubiquitous. Today, many people use their cell phones as Bluetooth® modems, though an actual modem can be more cost-effective if the cell phone is not using free minutes and the user has frequent use for the modem. For those who haven't made the jump to broadband, a Bluetooth® modem is far more convenient that a wired model.
If you decide to get a Bluetooth® modem, look for a model that supports the newest Bluetooth® standards, or the standards that your devices support. Also note the power class. Class 1 models have the longest range, up to 300 feet (~100 m), while Class 2 models are designed for use up to 30 feet (~10 m). Connecting devices must also support Class 1 to take advantage of the extended range.
Prices for internal Bluetooth® modems can start as low as $20 US Dollars (USD) with product readily available. External Bluetooth® modems start closer to $60 USD, representing a somewhat smaller market. If a dial-up modem is what you need, a Bluetooth® modem is the way to go.