Bluetooth Technology: What It Is and How It Works

Bluetooth Logo Image

Cordless headphones, portable speakers – a lot of our devices have Bluetooth capabilities and this concept has been around longer than you might think – but what is Bluetooth technology and how does it work? We’ve set out to answer these questions as well as highlight the differences between Bluetooth devices and those that are connected to the internet via Wi-Fi (IoT devices).

What is Bluetooth Technology?

Bluetooth is a short-range wireless network that transmits information via radio waves. It is more limited, temporary and short-range than wi-fi networks, but can be used to make different connected devices work together. Bluetooth gets its name from a Danish King from the tenth century who united the Danish tribes into one. Just as Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson united the Danes, so Bluetooth technology unites disparate technologies to help them work together (i.e. your wireless headphones and your phone). The developers of the technology liked the name so much they even used the ancient Danish runes HB for Harald Bluetooth to create the Bluetooth logo.

How Does It Work? 

Bluetooth uses ultra-high frequency radio waves to send information and uses much of the same radio wave frequency as Wi-Fi but with one main difference. Wi-Fi works with multiple devices on a single access point (for example, you can connect your computer, phone and smart TV to a singular Wi-Fi network). Bluetooth – on the other hand – is usually just a one-to-one connection between two devices (for example your cell phone and a smart speaker). Unlike Wi-Fi, Bluetooth operates at short distances only to save power. It is possible for Bluetooth to work within a 100 meter range, but most devices operate much closer (10 meters, etc.)

Though it’s easy to confuse Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as competing technologies, they are very different and are actually meant to work together. Whereas Wi-Fi connects networks of devices over long distances and uses a lot of power, Bluetooth links devices that are close together, connects automatically and uses very little power.

How Prevalent is Bluetooth Technology?

Though the technology was originally invented so that it could be used in wireless headphones, the prevalence of Bluetooth has grown exponentially over the past two decades. You may be surprised to know that you already have Bluetooth devices both in your home and (possibly) in your garage. Many devices (like wireless headphones and speakers) have Bluetooth technology embedded. If your car was made in the last few years, it likely also has Bluetooth technology (specifically for hands free phone conversations and speakers). Other technologies that may have Bluetooth are laptops (to connect to wireless mice and keyboards), printers, and gaming consoles.

What Can I Do to Keep My Bluetooth Connections Safe?

Though wireless technologies make things more convenient – wireless headphones allow for more movement, for example than wired– they can also be less secure. That’s why it’s important to take certain steps to secure devices that work over a wireless internet network or Bluetooth connection.

All Wi-Fi internet and Bluetooth connections are encrypted – so that the data these networks transmit are not readily accessible to others. However, it is a good idea to review your devices for both their service-level security and device-level security:

  • Service-level security: On your devices or the apps you use to control them, you can review and restrict the interaction between these devices and others on a network.
  • Device-level security: In your device settings, you can restrict the connections between two devices – for example, you can make it that your headphones only connect to your phone (vs. others in the area).        

Though both Wi-Fi technology and Bluetooth are very prevalent in our everyday lives, we very rarely take the time to acknowledge or learn about these technologies. Doing so, however, can make our data safer and help us improve our use of these technologies in the future.

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