We’ve all probably heard of Bluetooth, and have some familiarity as to what it does. But what really is it, how does it work and why on earth is it called Bluetooth?
It is named after a Danish king named Harald Bluetooth, who, in the 10th century, united the Scandinavians. So, pretty straightforward then. Onwards…
What does it do?
Like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth is a technology that allows devices to connect to each other without the need for cabling and wires. Bluetooth uses radio waves to connect and transmit information between devices that are Bluetooth enabled over a short range.
It can be used, for example, to connect a wireless keyboard to a computer, a hands free headphone set to your phone or a mouse to a tablet or laptop. Providing both devices are Bluetooth enabled and compatible, they will be able to communicate with each other without wires.
Using the Bluetooth software on a device, you can choose what device you’d like to connect to and accept connections from other devices wanting to connect to yours.
How does Bluetooth work?
Every device that wants to connect with Bluetooth needs a Bluetooth chip installed. This chip allows the device to search for other Bluetooth devices and transmit data to them.
These Bluetooth chips communicate with each other by sending and receiving radio waves in any one of 79 different frequencies that are reserved not only for Bluetooth devices but for industrial or medical machines. However since Bluetooth signals are weak and only work over a short range, there is little chance they’d have any effect on those machines.
To get two Bluetooth devices to connect, they need to be paired. In this case one of the devices – usually the accessory – needs to be made “discoverable”, meaning it will broadcast a signal signifying to other devices that it is present. The other device – usually a computer or phone – can then connect to that device using 1 of the 79 radio frequencies within the Bluetooth range, chosen randomly. Providing there is no PIN to enter, the two Bluetooth devices can now communicate with each other. If there is a PIN, then the device attempting the connection will need to enter the PIN. This is a security measure to prevent unauthorised devices connecting to another Bluetooth device.
To improve security, the radio frequency these devices use to communicate will change all the time to help prevent eavesdropping.
Each Bluetooth device can connect with another 8 at the same time, each using different radio frequencies. There are different versions of Bluetooth which have evolved as the world of technology has also evolved. Recent versions of Bluetooth focus on energy efficiency (to run that battery down a little less) and stability, to prevent erratic performance.
How does Bluetooth and Wi-Fi differ?
It is important to note that Bluetooth is not Wi-Fi. Bluetooth does not need a Wi-Fi network to work, nor the other way around. While both use radio waves and frequencies to connect instead of physical wires, the technologies are different and they are usually used for different things.
Bluetooth is designed to connect two devices directly together by pairing them so they can communicate, usually for the purposes of relaying information (like sound or instructions) from one device to the other. The distance to which they will be able to connect is only short, usually several feet, while the range of Wi-Fi is greater.
Wi-Fi is generally used to connect many devices to one central device, typically a Wi-Fi enabled router, most often for the purposes of accessing the Internet. Wi-Fi is considered more stable and performs better when connecting for longer periods of time and transferring larger amounts of data.
The two work completely independent of each other. A device with the relevant technology installed can connect to a Wi-Fi network and a Bluetooth device at the same time, and if one fails to work the other should not be affected.