What is Bluetooth and How Does It Work
From wireless speakers to smart toothbrushes, Bluetooth connections have quickly become an important part of our daily lives. It’s a simple way for all of our gadgets to exchange data over short distances without the use of pesky wires. But, even though hooking up our Bluetooth headphones and smartwatches has become second nature, most of us have no clue how it actually works. So, what is Bluetooth and how did it come to be as commonplace as the devices it connects? Let’s take a look.
Origins of Bluetooth
Bluetooth was developed by three pioneering tech companies back in the 1990s: Intel, Nokia, and Ericsson. The name “Bluetooth” was inspired by 10th century king Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, who was known for uniting the nations of Denmark and Norway, and for his dead tooth, which was a dark blue-grey. “Bluetooth” was only intended to be a code name for a project designed to unite the computing and cellular industries -- just like its namesake united his countries -- but once the tech went public, the name caught on before the company could change it.
How Does It Work?
Bluetooth is a fast and energy efficient two-way connection between devices, which allows automatic communication between any Bluetooth-enabled electronic or appliance quickly and inexpensively.
It works using low power radio waves on a frequency range used exclusively for industrial, scientific, and medical devices. It avoids interfering with other devices on the same frequency using two methods.
First, Bluetooth only uses very weak signals: Information is sent using about 1 milliwatt, which limits Bluetooth connection range to about 10 meters for most devices. Second, Bluetooth devices switch frequencies constantly, about 1,600 times every second. When two devices are linked, their frequencies become synchronized, so that they’re always at the same frequency. Because every Bluetooth device is constantly changing frequencies, even if one device does happen to match frequencies with another nearby device, the disruption only lasts for a fraction of a second.
What Can It Be Used For?
Bluetooth can be used for nearly all the same things you can use Wi-Fi for, but with a more limited range. It’s not as powerful as Wi-Fi, but it can be great for low-cost, low-power data exchange, like playing music over a portable speaker or downloading exercise history from a fitness tracker. Because the signals are so low power, a Bluetooth connection will hardly make a dent in a cell phone’s battery, while surfing the internet over Wi-Fi can be a significant energy drain. It’s also simpler than Wi-Fi to set up, and allows users to connect at the touch of a button.
The latest version of Bluetooth -- Bluetooth 5 -- was released in December 2016 and offers a number of upgrades to the existing technology. Many Bluetooth devices haven’t made the switch to the new version yet, but when they do, Bluetooth 5 promises further broadcast range, faster speed, and greater data capacity. Instead of being limited to a single room, some new devices will allow users to connect throughout a whole home or office. The technology is still being developed and upgraded regularly, so despite its current limitations, we expect plenty of improvements to the technology into the future.