Guide to Bluetooth Technology

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WHAT IS BLUETOOTH?

Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard invented way back in 1994. It was originally created to replace older wired data protocols such as RS-232 and designed to connect to multiple devices at one time. Bluetooth uses Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radio waves (in the frequency range of 2.4 - 2.485 GHz) to communicate between devices up to a distance of 10 meters. This is an important difference from Wi-Fi which is a separate standard intended to replace high speed computer networks.
Key Points:
  • Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard created in 1994
  • The Bluetooth standard is controlled and manufacturers need to comply with it 

HOW IS BLUETOOTH DIFFERENT FROM WIFI?

Bluetooth solutions are usually designed to be highly portable. Bluetooth speakers link directly to their source through pairing and have a maximum range of 30 feet (10 meters). This is ideally suited to when you want to immediately connect between a source (such as your phone, tablet or Bluetooth enabled media player) and a speaker wherever the location. Great for Ad-hoc parties and sharing of your music wherever you are.
WiFi is generally used as part of a solution which is installed permanently or semi-permanently in fixed locations and relies upon an existing Wi-Fi network to connect the source and the devices. This allows a larger distance between the source and speaker and can facilitate the broadcast of the same music stream to multiple speakers. This is ideally suited to fixed ‘multi-room’ audio installations within the home or office.
Key Points:
  • Bluetooth is better suited for ‘On-the-Go’ usage where you can directly link from your device to a speaker up to a range of 30 feet (10 meters).
  • WiFi is generally better suited for ‘fixed installations’ such as Multi-Room solutions in the house, requires a WiFi network but can be used over a greater range to multiple speakers.
Bluetooth Logo
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Bluetooth Logo

HOW DOES BLUETOOTH WORK?

In order for a Bluetooth connection to be established between devices they must both be Bluetooth enabled. This means that each device must have the necessary electronic circuitry to transmit and receive the UHF radio signals and the software required to convert these signals into meaningful data for our applications to work.
Any device that is Bluetooth enabled will usually be clearly marked with the Bluetooth logo in its packaging, user manual, or possibly, on the device itself. A Bluetooth device will also have a set of controls in its user interface for turning on, turning off and 'Pairing' the Bluetooth connection.

Key Points:
  • Devices must be Bluetooth compatible to communicate with each other.
  • Bluetooth compatible devices are marked with the Bluetooth Logo. 
Pairing Bluetooth Devices
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Pairing Bluetooth Devices

PAIRING YOUR BLUETOOTH ENABLED DEVICES

Bluetooth devices establish a connection between each other through a mechanism called 'Pairing'. Once 'Paired' the Bluetooth enabled devices can communicate with each other. The instructions supplied with a Bluetooth device will describe the exact procedure for pairing it to other Bluetooth enabled devices, however, the process is pretty much the same for all devices:
Turn on both devices that you want to pair - we will assume a smart phone and speaker.
Enable the Bluetooth feature on your smartphone (could also be an iPad/Tablet, iPod/MP3 player or PC etc..)
Put your 'end device' - a speaker, headset, printer, GPS device) into 'Pairing mode' - the device manual will detail how to do this. Whilst in paring mode the speaker will send out a signal which basically says 'I want to connect to another Bluetooth device'. It will continue to send out this signal until another Bluetooth device accepts the signal. If there is no acceptance signal from another Bluetooth enabled device the speaker will stop sending out its signal after a period of time.
The smartphone should be able to identify the signal from the speaker and show its name in its list of available devices.  You can then select the Bluetooth speaker name and the smartphone will pair with it. The Bluetooth connection is made and the two devices can communicate. In some instances a passkey may be required to complete the pairing and the pass key will be outlined in the instructions for the speaker/headphone device instructions.Once you have paired the two devices the smartphone will usually remember the speakers Bluetooth details so the next time you want to pair the two devices all you need to do is enable Bluetooth on both. Note that sometimes you will not be able to pair two devices if one of them is already paired to another device.
 
Key Points:
  • Bluetooth Devices must be ‘paired’ to each other before they can communicate (play music or act as a hands-free phone).
  • Once you have paired two devices they usually remember the pairing. 

BLUETOOTH VERSIONS AND PROTOCOLS

Bluetooth has been around for a while now and newer versions have been created that enable the benefits of the latest and greatest technology.

Bluetooth Versions
There have been various versions of Bluetooth since V1.0 however at this time we generally see V2.1, V3.0 and V4.0 in common use in the devices available in the marketplace.
Bluetooth 2.1 was released in 2007. Its data speed was the same as V2.0 - 3Mbps in theory (about 2.1Mbps in practice) but it provided more data transmission security, used less power and had a better pairing system which did not require any PIN. In 2009, Bluetooth 3.0 was introduced with the ability to use Wi-Fi connections which brought more speed in data transmission - up to 24Mbps. The most recent version of Bluetooth is version 4.0 which has much lower power consumption making it very compatible with today’s portable smart devices.

Bluetooth Protocols
Bluetooth technology creates a secure, fast 2-way connection between two or more devices allowing them to communicate. To make that communication understandable each device needs to use a common language - this is a set of protocols that allow the devices to understand and control each other's features. If you want your devices to connect and stream music, or to allow hands free calls, both devices need to be compatible with a protocol that enables these actions.
This is why in the Bluetooth device specification you see something like 'Bluetooth Profiles Supported:  A2DP/AVRCP'. These are the protocols that a specific device is compatible with. This might sound a bit scary but it isn't - for Bluetooth Speakers and Headsets there are only a few protocols you need to be aware of:
  • A2DP - A2DP stands for 'Advanced Audio Distribution Profile' and is a Bluetooth protocol that allows mobile users to stream high quality (stereo or mono) audio wirelessly. If you want to listen to your music on a pair of Bluetooth headphones or speakers both devices need to support the A2DP protocol.
  • AVRCP - AVRCP stands for 'Audio/Video Remote Control Profile' and is a Bluetooth profile that allows devices to control media playback on remote devices. It is typically used with A2DP devices for next/previous track selection and pause/play functions when streaming music.
  • HFP - HFP stands for 'Hands Free Protocol' and is a Bluetooth profile to enable a two-way wireless speaker-phone to be used with a Bluetooth phone. Its most common use is with car kits. HFP is one of the most common Bluetooth profiles. Nearly all phones support it, including ones that do not support Headset Profile (HSP). Since all modern Bluetooth headsets support both HSP and HFP, phones without HSP can still use Bluetooth headsets via HFP. HFP does not support stereo.
  • HSP - HSP stands for 'Headset Profile' and is a Bluetooth profile to enable a two-way wireless headset to be used with a Bluetooth phone. Headset is one of the most common Bluetooth profiles and supports simultaneous two-way (full-duplex) audio, but it does not support stereo audio. HSP can be used with devices other than phones. For example, a Bluetooth headset could be used with a Bluetooth-enabled PC and VoIP software to place an Internet phone call.
Key Points:
  • As Bluetooth versions increase generally the connection speed and power consumption improve.
  • Bluetooth protocols such as A2DP, AVRCP, HFP and HSP allow Bluetooth devices to use features such as Hands-free phone calling and music track control. 
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