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Which Wireless Headset Technology to use?

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Which Wireless Office Headset Technology suits you (Bluetooth or DECT)?

With all the technologies available today it is hard to know which wireless headset to buy. We all know the convenience headsets give the person on the move – on the road or just around the office. But what technology features do we choose – Wi-Fi and cell phone compatibility, user density, radio technology, user density? Some things to consider when choosing a wireless headset for your business include:

  1. How will a wireless headset benefit your business?
  2. Is it compatible with your telephone system and needs?
  3. Do you need the convenience of mobility that allows your staff to multi task?

Technology changes rapidly – Bluetooth, digital enhanced cordless technology (DECT) and analog. Here we will look at all these technologies and compare their strengths and weaknesses.

Pairing up the Right Headset

Wireless headsets pair up with their own bases as a point-to-point communications tool, and ignore other headsets and bases. This process is called pairing and each unit must learn to communicate with each component. The difference between them is the analog systems pair up on a common frequency. DECT and Bluetooth headsets pair when the user pushes buttons on the base and the headset to activate the communication between the two.

Some Bluetooth headset models have multipoint capacity so they can be paired with two services at a time – an office wireless system and a cell phone. Very convenient as all you have to do is switch between the two devices without switching headsets.

How Far can you go from the Base System?

This is a question that is difficult to answer – and of course, we all want to know how far we can range from the base. This is an important consideration when buying a wireless headset.

The environment it is used in affects radio wave propagation. Using a wireless headset inside considerably shortens its range as there are so many walls and materials for the radio waves to penetrate. Think about it. Offices are filled with cabinets and bookshelves, ducts – you name it – all presenting a challenge to the radio waves your office devices use. Outside the challenge is just as great – concrete walls, power lines, and steel construction everywhere. Depending on where we are, the environment impacts on the quality and range of all wireless headsets. The answers vary – Bluetooth headsets up to 30 feet and DECT systems (like the Plantronics CS540 Wireless Headset or Plantronics Savi W740 Wireless Headset) up to 300 feet.

Be careful when comparing the range advertised by wireless headset manufacturers. It may be that the 300 foot range requires the environment to be clear of obstacles and in a real situation; it may come down to 100 feet.

Bluetooth has a much shorter range than the DECT range. The DECT headsets are often more practical as their antennas are bigger and have a better capacity to pick up signals. Whereas Bluetooth technology relies on single-chip systems.

How Many People can Use Wireless Technology at once?

The big question is how many people can use wireless links at the one time – known as user density. For analog systems, they are limited to how many channels the unit has. But the limit in one room with all bases in sight of each other can bring this down to half the available channels.

Digital systems make calculating user density more difficult. As the environment has more wireless signal traffic, digital systems adapt and become tolerant of these interfering signals. Algorithms in the receiver are more sophisticated and adaptable to their environment than on other headset technologies.

Bluetooth work differently again. To maintain good audio through the headset its radio transmits and receives one-sixth of the time. It continually hops through the 70 available channels looking for Wi-Fi. Now all other Bluetooth headsets in the area do the same, users often collide on the same channel, and when they do you will hear a click through the headset. This can happen many times a second. This can be very annoying when more than three Bluetooth headsets are used within an area of 20 square feet.

The DECT systems were originally designed exclusively for voice communications so they perform better than Bluetooth in high density situations. They only propagate radio waves a quarter of the time of Bluetooth technology. If a DECT system is used in an area with cubicle walls, it will work better as the number of links into headsets rise as your operators help your customers. But, the maximum range will decrease the more headsets that are in use.

It is good to position your DECT system one to a cubicle. Make sure the walls are high enough to block direct lines to the radios. Plantronics offers 900MHz and 1.9GHz DECT systems which can improve the overall system performance by mixing up system types in high user areas.

What Wireless Services Work with What?

Whatever system technology you buy for your business it must be compatible with the other technology you use. For example, an office may have cordless phones that operate at 900MHz or 2.4GHz; kitchen equipment at 2.4GHz or Wi-Fi at 2.4 or 5.8GHz. While they can operate together in this situation, they operate best if they have their own frequency band.

In this situation, DECT systems have an advantage over the others as the 900 MHz band is normally not used that much in larger office complexes. The new 1.9GHz UPCS band was recently devoted to North America and is for use only by DECT and similar communications services. It is free of the signals that interfere with radio wireless technology.

Wi-Fi Technology – Is it what you need?

Most corporations use what is known as 802.11b or 802.11g Wireless Ethernet for connecting to laptop computers. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and a lot of analog systems interfere with each other as they all operate in the 2.4 GHz radio band. Analog and proprietary digital systems can all operate in the 2.4 GHz band but end up overloading the Wi-Fi networks. For this reason, Wi-Fi headsets are usually a poor choice in office environments. There are some offices that use the 802.11a standard bandwidth, which operates at 5.8GHz. 802.11a so they don’t cause interference with other frequencies.

Bluetooth technology is compatible with its neighboring Wi-Fi users. Many newer Bluetooth models use adaptive frequency hopping (AFH) to avoid using channels in use by Wi-Fi frequency users.

Bluetooth headsets can usually share the Wi-Fi band as it only uses a third of the band for its requirements if there are adjacent access ports for different parts if the band network. If a Bluetooth headset is used in range of three other Wi-Fi points, or several users attempt to use the Bluetooth headset close to each other; normally the Bluetooth communication is affected. This happens because Bluetooth technology holds tiny 1/1600-second piece of voice and when WiFi interferes, some of these can be lost causing small clicks in the line. Sometimes these clicks can be so frequent that communication becomes too difficult. DECT systems do not have these issues with Wi-Fi as they use a different frequency.

Headsets for Cell Phone and Personal Computers

Bluetooth is usually the best technology for cell phones and personal computers. You can use the same headset for your personal computer and cell phone if your computer has Bluetooth an audio-enabled adapter. Do check though as not all personal computers that uses Bluetooth support sound.

In North America DECT headsets connect to their own base only and are not usually compatible with personal computers or cell phones

How does Voice Quality Compare?

Cell phones and the Bluetooth headsets deliver similar voice quality and both are readily susceptible to local interference. Their quality is never as good as a regular landline. When the conditions are good, wireless analog FM systems usually have better voice quality. The DECT and proprietary digital systems are the headsets that provide reliable voice quality similar to the quality coming down the landlines.

How much Power does a Headset need?

Headsets have a low power usage. Headset devices are designed to operate for hours at a time from a very small battery. This eliminates heath concerns working with constant radio signals. Bluetooth headsets emit less than 1% of a cell phone. Plantronics DECT headsets emit less than 3%. They will operate well with little interference from old equipment and multi-le similar devices can be used in the same area.

How easy is it to be Overheard?

Because the old analog wireless systems used FM modulation it is easy for anyone with a radio receiver to tune into your frequency. Often by accident; and they can be anywhere in the area. Radio waves pass through objects and an eavesdropper can even set up close by to monitor your radio frequency.

Today, in the age of taking people’s personal and financial information down over the phone, security across the airwaves has become a primary consideration. You don’t want your competitors or people out to make a quick buck trying to find out what’s going on across your telecommunication lines. Just imagine the damage that could cause your business. You don’t want anything leaking out until you are ready to announce it yourself.

These days there are better options available and security has become a primary concern for communications developers. Security for Bluetooth and DECT is better across short-range connections. What makes their security more sophisticated is that they both channel hop frequently meaning it is hard to track. Bluetooth systems channel hop a massive 1600 times a second in a random pattern that may only be repeated once a day. DECT technology does something similar but not as often but at irregular times that depend on varying local conditions. This makes it impossible to predict the DECT transmissions.

Both systems use complicated algorithms to encrypt the voice transmissions to add to the security of what you are saying across the airwave. Both Bluetooth and DECT products meet the Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA requirements for protecting confidential information. Bluetooth uses 128-bit encryption compared to DECT which uses 64-bits. While it could be argued Bluetooth had the edge here, they both meet worldwide standards for security across telecommunications’ networks.

What is the Verdict?

The choice really comes down to DECT and Bluetooth as analog systems are not good for business situations. If your staff needs compatibility with cell phones then Bluetooth is probably the best technology for you. But if your staff do not need their headsets for dual purposes then DECT technology would be the better choice. DECT offers your staff better voice quality, range, user density and Wi-Fi compatibility.

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