We’ve all heard of Bluetooth. In fact, most of us use it, often without even realizing it. But what, exactly, is it? Ask 10 people on the street and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. That’s why we went straight to the source—the experts who work with Bluetooth every day and can help the novices among us to understand this technology once and for all.
What is Bluetooth?
“Bluetooth is the wireless technology that enables users to pair two or more wireless devices, such as your smartphone and a wireless speaker in order to play music,” explains Micha Benoliel, CEO and cofounder of Nodle, an IoT connectivity and security provider. “Any device that is Bluetooth-enabled allows connected devices to interact with each other.” For example, it allows you to hook up your phone to your car, as well as get your wireless mouse to work with your laptop.
And that’s not all it does. “Outside of the home, Bluetooth is commonly used to locate small devices like trackers attached to a key chain or pet collar,” says Benoliel. “In some industrial-use cases, [it can] help businesses locate shipping pallets or smart cities collect sensor data.” So if you’ve got Tile or one of these other products for people who keep losing things, it’s Bluetooth you’re relying on.
What isn’t Bluetooth?
You’re probably starting to assume that all of the ways your device can connect with others comes down to Bluetooth. But not so fast! Benoliel explains, “AirDropping or AirPlay are often mistaken as Bluetooth because of their ability to link devices, but AirDrop and AirPlay are unique to Apple devices and are dependent on Wi-Fi connection, whereas Wi-Fi is not necessary for Bluetooth devices to connect with each other.” By the way, this is what Wi-Fi stands for.
So, how does it work?
“Bluetooth networking transmits data via low-power radio waves,” explains Kenny Trinh, managing editor of the tech review publication Netbooknews. “Bluetooth systems create a wireless network called personal-area network (PAN), or piconet. Once a piconet is established, Bluetooth devices can then join the network, pair with each other, and share information.”
Why is it called Bluetooth?
According to Marcus Prendergast, head of Belgravia Cybersecurity, the idea for the name was proposed in 1997 by Jim Kardach of Intel, who developed a system that would allow mobile phones to communicate with computers. “At the time of his proposal,” Prendergast explains, “he was reading Frans G. Bengtsson’s historical novel The Long Ships about Vikings and King Harald Bluetooth.”
How does Bluetooth benefit users?
“When a Bluetooth connection is enabled between two devices, the connection is usually extremely stable and reliable and lets users connect wireless devices,” says Benoliel. Plus, of course, there aren’t any wires. “In the past, cords or cables were involved to connect devices,” he adds. “Bluetooth essentially removes those barriers and allows for devices to connect from a longer range with or without Wi-Fi connection.”
How can users utilize this technology?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all this tech talk and unsure of how to take advantage of Bluetooth yourself, have no fear! “Bluetooth is easy to use,” Trinh says. “Just enable Bluetooth from your device and the device you want to pair with to make the devices discoverable. After that, you can then pair your device with the desired device you want to connect to, such as another smartphone or wireless headphones. You can then transfer files using Bluetooth or listen to music.”
Are there any safety concerns regarding Bluetooth?
In today’s day and age, you always have to worry about security. “Typically, smartphones display the list of devices you are connected to in the Bluetooth settings, and one security concern is connecting with unknown devices within Bluetooth range,” says Benoliel. “Since Bluetooth can connect with devices from longer ranges, it is possible to connect with devices that are in close proximity, such as a speaker in a neighbor’s home.”
How can that happen? Benoliel explains, “Bluetooth devices work by sharing profiles, and these profiles define which type of information can be shared or accessed. Bluetooth can also share data between devices, and these devices typically ask for permission or access to information in your mobile device, such as photos, address books, or location. This is relatively harmless if you are connecting to a trusted device, but users should consider whether or not they want to share their data with devices they don’t own or use regularly, such as a rental-car stereo or friend’s portable speaker.”
Also, if these apps are on your phone, someone may be spying on you—so that’s something else to look into if you’re concerned about security.
Clearing up a common misconception
When it comes to Bluetooth, there are still a lot of things the average user may not understand. For instance, Benoliel says that some smartphone users still believe that leaving your Bluetooth interface on may drain the battery of your phone—but that’s not the case. “To drain the battery, the Bluetooth interface must be in use, and with the recent upgrade of the Bluetooth standard, most devices use Bluetooth Low Energy, which has been made to save on energy,” he says. As a matter of fact, Bluetooth uses less energy than other means of connecting. “It is supposed to consume 33 times less energy than Wi-Fi, for example,” Benoliel adds.
Now that you’re all caught up on Bluetooth, you may want to check out these 13 digital basics most Americans don’t actually know.