How Does Bluetooth Work?

If you’re anything like me then you use Bluetooth all the time, to sync your phone with your hands-free headset, to play tunes in your car, and to transfer files from your tablet or computer. But what exactly is this technology and how does it work?

Who, What, and Why

bluetoothEssentially Bluetooth is a method of wirelessly syncing devices via radio waves in a way that product manufactures have all agreed on (over 17,000 organizations). This means that to create a Bluetooth product, companies need to ensure that their devices use certain frequencies to transmit and receive information.

This means that instead of each different company having their own kind of data transmission, any company (no matter how large or small) can create a device which can communicate with other more established products (such as an iPhone) and vice versa with no barriers to production. The central benefits are: innovation (leading to a bigger range of products) and an open market (leading to lower costs for consumers). An example where such a unilateral agreement is not in place is in power adaptors manufacturing where global brands have still not standardized their power adaptor connections across all devices, this is both frustrating (as a consumer) and limiting as new companies must spend additional funds adapting to numerous power outlets (imagine a Speaker Port company trying to play all the top MP3 players – it needs several extensions to charge all of them).

Thanks to the “Bluetooth Special Interest Group” similar barriers to progress are not in place and thousands of global brands in telecoms, IT, and consumer electronics all use Bluetooth to allow their devices to wirelessly communicate with millions of others.

Personal Area Network & ISM

bluetooth technologyBluetooth is a collection of 79 frequencies which make up a set called a “Radio Protocol” such that all Bluetooth devices can communicate within these frequencies, this creates a Personal Area Network. Similarly to the Local Area Network or “LAN” (connecting two or more computers together) and the Wide Area Network or “WAN” (connecting to the Internet), your Personal Area Network or “PAN” is essentially a portable network that surrounds your device.

The major difference between regular radio devices such as AM radios, TVs, and Two-Way Radios, is the range with which they can send information. Typically, these regular radio devices transmit data over large distances, whereas Bluetooth has a range of only around 10-20 meters. This provides a more intense localized transmission area which is perfect for the syncing of portable or lightweight devices.

Bluetooth frequencies work on the unlicensed industrial, scientific and medical band (ISM). One of the downsides of such open frequency communication, however, is that certain versions of Bluetooth are not able to encrypt information during transmission and thus do so insecurely. There have been some unfortunate case studies where conversations have been overheard via people tapping into local frequencies of Bluetooth headsets and these issues are a worrying symptom of the openness Bluetooth relies on. Nevertheless, it is precisely because of this openness that such innovation has erupted over the last decade, allowing for a vast array of compatible accessories ranging from the fun and unique to the functional and essential. Once again, the ability for any company to create a device which is compatible with major mobile handsets on the market ensures creativity and choice in a fast moving industry.

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