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What Is Bluetooth?

Tech Talker answers a listener question about bluetooth.

By
Eric Escobar,
March 3, 2016
Episode #211

Page 1 of 2

This week, a listener named Tina wrote in to ask me, "What exactly is bluetooth?" I thought this was a great question, and I couldn't believe I hadn't already answered it on my show. So, without further ado ... 

What Does Bluetooth Do?

You’ve probably seen Bluetooth advertised on almost every smartphone and most small electronics. This is because Bluetooth is a form of wireless communication made specifically for close range, low power communication. You’ll see Bluetooth in wireless headsets, cameras, fitness trackers, smart watches, laptops, and most small electronic items. Bluetooth is very similar to WiFi in that it allows devices to communicate with one another. However, Bluetooth is meant for devices where battery life is more important than high data transfer speeds.

For example, say you have a FitBit, the amount of data it has to send to your phone about steps taken is extremely small, which means you could send it slowly via Bluetooth and the time to transfer would be instant because there is so little data. Bluetooth also has the benefit of being incredibly energy efficient, which means devices use very little power transmitting and receiving information and can last much longer without needing a charge.

Why Is It Called That?

One of the most interesting things about Bluetooth, though, is how it arrived at its name. Way back in the 1990’s, an Intel Engineer (Jim Kardach) was working on creating Bluetooth as a standard technology that could be used by everyone. This would be a united way different devices and companies could build wireless devices that talked to one another.

As he was working on Bluetooth, he was also reading about the second king of Denmark, who unified Scandinavia all the way back in the 10th century. The king’s name was Harold Bluetooth. Kardach originally used Bluetooth as a just a name to refer to the project, but it became extremely popular in the news and somehow it stuck. What’s even more interesting is if you ever look at the symbol for Bluetooth (It looks like a jagged capitol B in a round blue circle), those are actually the kings initials in Scandinavian runes.

What Are the Specs?

Bluetooth is not very fast and doesn’t have a very long range. You can communicate with other Bluetooth devices about 25 ft away if they have an unobstructed view of one another, and at max transfer speeds, you can see about 25 MBs per second, which pales in comparison to something like WiFi, which has speeds of 1900 Mbs+. However, like I mentioned before, they were designed for different purposes.

The newest version of Bluetooth is actually so energy efficient that device manufacturers have been creating devices that can gather small amounts of energy from the environment in order to generate power. For example, there are some watches and pedometers (step trackers) that are actually being powered by the movement of the person wearing them.

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