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Making the Wireless Headset Decision: DECT vs. Bluetooth

Posted by Paul Desmond

Jan 8, 2015

As you’re hunting around for wireless headsets to go with your unified communications implementation (because, as we’ve discussed, a proper headset is crucial to user acceptance), you’ll likely come across the DECT standard. You may find yourself wondering just what DECT is and how it differs from Bluetooth. This simple post will, hopefully, put the matter to rest.wireless_headsets

DECT stands for Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications, although it’s also known as Digital European Cordless Telecommunications – which makes sense because it’s a standard that originated in Europe. It is widely used in wireless phone systems, to connect a cordless phone to a base station. DECT is also used for various other applications, ranging from baby monitors to industrial remote controls, but for our purposes, we’ll focus on the phone systems.

DECT is used for both consumer and corporate phones. In the latter case, it can be used with a PBX (IP- or TDM-based) and a wireless LAN, enabling users to move about an office without losing their calls.

The standard is widely used in most countries, working in or near the 1.9 GHz frequency band, where it does not interfere with other wireless technologies including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

I say “most countries” because in North America it’s a little different. According to Wikipedia:

North American adoption was delayed by United States radio frequency regulations. This forced development of a variation of DECT, called DECT 6.0, using a slightly different frequency range. The technology is nearly identical, but the frequency difference makes the technology incompatible with systems in other areas, even from the same manufacturer. DECT has almost universally replaced other standards in most countries where it is used, with the exception of North America.

DECT vs. Bluetooth - Security

An initial question that went through my head was about security as it relates to these additional office-based wireless spectrums. To learn more about whether there were any concerns, I spoke with Dennis Majikas, a service engineer with Jabra.  "People are concerned that others may be able to tap into their call via the wireless connection, but that is almost impossible to do once authentication is established," explained Majikas. There are two areas of potential concern, the first is when the headset to base authentication is established which includes a number of handshakes and allows for establishment of a secure link. Once that happens the headset then turns voice into digital data, encrypts that, and passes only the encrypted data back to the base (for both standards), making the conversation highly secure.

"DECT uses 64 bit encryption, and Bluetooth has 128 bit encryption, so once the headsets are appropriately paired with their base stations the chances of someone effectively listening in on a call is virtually nil," says Majikas.

DECT vs. Bluetooth - the Distance Dilemma

With respect to Bluetooth, the biggest difference DECT holds is its far greater range, around 100 meters. Bluetooth range varies depending on what class is in effect. Class 1 goes up to about 30 meters, Class 2 about 10 meters and Class 3 is 1 meter. In the case of an office environment, a Bluetooth-capable base station would be Class 1 capable, as would the headset. But a smartphone would be Class 2 so if the headset was to answer a call from the smartphone, it would automatically adjust itself to Class 2 power level.  (Class 3 is used for devices such as keyboards and mice.)

But DECT’s range can be both a blessing and a curse. DECT supports a maximum of 60 channels on a given base station in the U.S., or 120 in Europe. Given the maximum range of 100 meters, in a dense environment such as a call center, companies may run out of available channels even though plenty of additional users are well within range of the base station. In that case, there .a few things that can be done: First, the set up must be planned for and configured with base stations sufficiently far away from each other so as not to cause interference. Second, there are options for turning the DECT range down to 60 feet or so in high density environments to minimize interference.

DECT vs. Bluetooth - Connectivity Considerations

Another difference is that a DECT headset can connect to only one other device, namely the base station that provides a connection to the phone network.

A single Bluetooth device can connect to up to 8 other devices simultaneously.  In the headset example, that means the same headset could be used to connect to a user’s mobile phone, computer-based soft phone and desk phone.

So the choice in headset will largely depend on how it will be used. If your users need it only for desk or computer-based phones, as in a call center, a DECT headset makes sense - at least if you don’t run up against the channel limitation. The headsets  should be interference-free and will afford the ability for users to move about pretty much at will.

On the other hand, if the headset will also be used with a mobile phone, then Bluetooth may well make more sense. Mobility will be less of an issue since users have their mobile phones with them anyway so they’re well within the 10-meter limit. The ability to use the same headset for both office and mobile phones is convenient. And if you’ve got a UC system that enables uninterrupted handoffs between computer-based softphones and mobile devices, that’s even better - the single Bluetooth headset should be all your users need.

Topics: Technology, Voice, Contact Center, Mobility, Wireless

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