Car owners guide to: Car Accessories > Mobile Communications & Bluetooth®

Many of us now take for granted how easy it is to contact anyone who's known to us - whether a family member, friend or office colleague - from just about anywhere in the world. Successful business revolves around being able to keep in touch and make decisions quickly and, while not always welcomed, the 'mobile' or cellular phone has become indispensible. But it also brought with it a number of problems, some serious, none more so than the use of a phone while driving.

Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving can become a dangerous distraction and so, in 2003, UK legislation banned the use of hand-held devices while driving. This wasn't enough to discourage all drivers however, and so in February 2007 the UK Road Safety Act introduced a tougher automatic penalty of a £60 fine and three points on a driver's licence for anyone caught using their hand-held phone while behind the wheel of a vehicle.

While it might be easy enough to pull over to make the occasional call, the ability to have a conversation while on the move is an essential for many business people. Fortunately, a variety of solutions exist to provide hands-free in-car communications, some wired, some wireless. Not surprisingly, the wireless solutions tend to be more popular as they often involve minimal time and effort in fitting the accessory. And the technology most used to make wireless in-car communications possible is Bluetooth.

Bluetooth® - what is it?

Bluetooth technology is a method of wireless communication capable of transmitting data over short distances. It was developed as a way of connecting many different types of electronic equipment without the need for cables. Bluetooth provides a standard so that electronic devices from different manufacturers will happily and reliably "talk" to each other.

When Bluetooth connects devices to each other, they become "paired" - in other words they each check that they are compatible with one another and will be able to exchange data. The user can set a secure level so that connections can only be established between allowed devices - a work colleague's computer and your own laptop PC for example, to allow secure exchange of sales figures.

There are many uses for Bluetooth. As mentioned, it can wirelessly link computers and PDAs. It's also possible to stream music to headphones or the car's stereo system from a Bluetooth-equipped Music Phone or MP3 player (using Bluetooth's A2DP protocol). But probably the most widespread use of Bluetooth technology is in providing hands-free mobile phone operation.

There are several different types of hands-free products available, from many different brands. A popular design, available in several variations, is the one-piece speaker and microphone system. This places both the mic and speaker in just about the best place to give the clearest sound both ways, and it's easy to fit. Most use Bluetooth to connect with your phone, which can be out of the way. A built-in rechargeable battery means you don't need to have a cable trailing from the device to the cigarette lighter socket, and you can expect to get about 10 hours talk time and around 100 hours standby time before it will need recharging. Some have a caller display so you know who is calling before you answer.

A number of car stereo CD players now have Bluetooth® technology built-in and are said to be 'Bluetooth® Ready'. Purchasing a separate module can provide hands-free communications by routing the caller's voice through the stereo system speakers, at the same time automatically muting the music if it's playing. If you are thinking of upgrading your stereo system, it's worth checking if the new unit has this facility.

There's no shortage of other devices, from relatively simple speaker units that plug directly in to the cigarette lighter socket (and so, depending on where that's located, these may or may not be so suitable in your vehicle), to Bluetooth headsets. The headsets - or at least the better ones - will tend to give the best audio quality, but having to wear a headset won't suit everybody. Some devices combine the benefits of a for a system that can be used in or away from the car.