The name Bluetooth has been synonymous with connected technology for years now and for good reason. When we need two devices to communicate with one another, Bluetooth is our go-to and has been for the better part of the last two decades. While Bluetooth is an incredibly valuable function that we increasingly take for granted, what is Bluetooth exactly? You may be wondering what it is and how does Bluetooth work in today’s increasingly connected world. Let’s find out.
What Is Bluetooth?
Named after a 10th century Scandinavian King, Harald Bluetooth, the history of modern day Bluetooth traces back to 1994. Ericsson, a Swedish telecommunications giant, saw the promise of using Bluetooth as a wireless connection to connect earphones with mobile devices. After testing, five companies (Ericsson, Nokia, IBM, Toshiba and Intel) formed the Bluetooth SIG in 1998 to help monitor the growth of Bluetooth. By the end of 1998, Bluetooth had more than 400 companies and more recently had more than 30,000 members.
On a more technical side, Bluetooth uses the same 2.4GHz technology as other wireless technologies. Originally designed to work over distances of 10 meters, Bluetooth can generally handle a network of two to eight devices. It’s through this technology that you can send a page from your computer to your printer in another room without a cable. Inside each Bluetooth hardware is a governor of sorts that allows it to properly determine the type of range available. In this modern day, there are three types of Bluetooth classes available:
- Class 1 is the most powerful and can operate up to 100 meters or 330 feet.
- Class 2 is the most common and retains the original’s standard of 10 meters or 33 feet.
- Class 3 is the least powerful and generally is only good for distances of 1 meter or 3.3 feet.
How Does Bluetooth Work?
As noted above, Bluetooth works in the 2.4GHz frequency range and sends 79 different bands of radio waves inside this frequency. As data is sent, Bluetooth divides all of your data into smaller, more transferable packets. Once the packets have been divided, they are then sent individually over those 79 bands, all while being smart enough to not get clogged up anywhere. Of course, all of this happens within microseconds with almost no lag between the two connected devices.
Bluetooth Versus Wi-Fi
Unlike your Wi-Fi or 3G/4G/5G connections, Bluetooth doesn’t use any data. That’s good news for people in today’s world who connect their smartphones to their cars and stream music. While the actual streaming of music uses data, connecting to your car via Bluetooth uses no Internet data and has minimal impact on battery life.
Different Bluetooth Types
As of 2021, there are two different types of Bluetooth technology available for consumer use. The first is Bluetooth Basic Rate/Enhanced Data Rate, and the second is Low Energy. The former (BR/EDR) must always be paired. On the other hand, Low Energy devices can require a trusted relationship, but it is not always a requirement. Introduced with Bluetooth 4.0, Low Energy is great for electronics such as wearables, headphones or other low power devices where battery life is at a premium. As of today, there are five different versions of Bluetooth available:
Bluetooth Classic: This includes versions 1.0 – 3.0.
- When Bluetooth 1.0 first launched, it was capped at data speeds of less than 1 Mbps with a range no greater than 10 meters.
- Bluetooth 2.0 took things up a notch by increasing speeds upwards of 2 to 3 Mbps.
- Bluetooth 3.0 included the use of 802.11 tech, which helped increase data transfers up to 24 Mbps.
Bluetooth 4.0 is the most common type of Bluetooth available today. Data speeds are limited to 1 Mbps.
Bluetooth 5.0 is an improvement on the Low Energy side by increasing data rate and range. It can work in a variety of transmission ranges including 125 Kbps, 500 Kbps, 1 Mbps and 2 Mbps. The reduction in data rate had the positive effect of being able to increase data range to a whopping 240 meters. Conversely, the faster transmission of 2 Mbps is significantly more limited and is best suited for short range use.
The latest version Bluetooth 5.1 introduces better transmission technology and range. Read more about Bluetooth 5.1 here.
Why Use Bluetooth?
Why not? The usage of Bluetooth has expanded to more than just connecting earphones and mobile phones. There are already plenty of uses for Bluetooth:
- While printers have generally relied on Wi-Fi, that type of connection can be shaky. Bluetooth enabled printers allow you to print from your phone or computer without cable, and even when Wi-Fi is offline.
- Smartwatches and wearables rely heavily on Bluetooth connectivity. These devices have opened the door to an entire new world of tracking workouts and can share data directly back to your phone for syncing back to a health app.
- Most laptops come with Bluetooth and allows you to connect to a Bluetooth keyboard and mice.
- Wireless gaming is done via Bluetooth across the Xbox, PS4 and smartphone worlds. Connecting a PS4 or Xbox One controller to your iPhone or Android device is all handled through Bluetooth.
- Need to get a Wi-Fi signal somewhere you only have cellular service? Connect your smartphone to your computer through Bluetooth so it can be enabled as a hotspot.
These few examples only scratch the surface of how many different types of electronics you are using today with Bluetooth. It’s so deeply integrated and connected, that you can see it’s something relatively new to the electronics world.
Bluetooth has already played a huge role in our tech-centric lives and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Thanks to advances with Bluetooth 5.1, connections are more solid and data transfers are more reliable. These improvements are sure to carry through with the next generation of Bluetooth devices, only increasing our reliance on it in the future.