Your extent of knowledge about Bluetooth technology could be anywhere from “it’s the magic that makes my smartwatch work” to “it’s a short wave secure 2.45 GHz radio frequency used to establish a piconet between two or more devices.” Chances are, however, you stand somewhere in the middle of those two understandings. Wherever your understanding is, let’s explain Bluetooth from simple to complex in an easy to comprehend way.
What is Bluetooth?
At its core, Bluetooth is the prime wireless technology used across virtually all devices. Bluetooth is just an invisible wire that connects different devices together. Hang with me, we’re going to get more complex as we keep moving. When we say Bluetooth, we really mean the connectivity between devices, but this involves both a signal and some hardware. On the hardware side, both devices need to be equipped with an antenna-supplied chip that can encode, decode and transmit data via antenna.
We all have probably tried and hopefully succeeded, at connecting a device through Bluetooth. What’s really going on is the device that is set to be discoverable, usually the one with the final output (like a speaker), sends out pinging signals that can be detected by other Bluetooth enabled devices, i.e. it shows up on your phone screen. Once you hit connect and link the devices together, you have just formed a piconet. No, this isn’t a net used to catch yellow Pokemon – Pikachu net, ha – yeah, I’m not funny… This is actually a micro-network of recognizable radio waves communicating back and forth between devices. These waves are short (~15 meters) so that there isn’t conflicting Bluetooth waves all over the place.
The Bluetooth signal
The signal itself operates within the frequency of 2.4 to 2.485 GHz, which falls in the unlicensed scientific, industrial, and medical (ISM) category. To continue on down the path to technical understanding, according to the Bluetooth website, it uses “a spread spectrum, frequency hopping, full-duplex signal at a nominal rate of 1600 hops/sec.” To break that down into words everyone can understand, the signal isn’t just on one frequency, in fact, it hops around to different frequencies – A LOT. 1600 times per second, to be exact. This keeps the Bluetooth signal connected between devices and prevents static from occurring due to competing signals. This also helps it be ultra-secure, more so than your neighbor’s wireless network you have been stealing.
Part of what has made Bluetooth so integral to modern technology is the fact that it requires very little power to operate. The waves have a short broadcast range and data streams are optimized to communicate as little as needed. Newer Bluetooth technology allows low power modes that can stay in contact with Bluetooth devices, even when there’s no power at that instant. With this low power connectivity ability, we can have things like trashcans that alert you when they are full, or even a toilet seat that alerts you when you forgot to put the seat down.
New developments and uses of Bluetooth
Bluetooth is still a promising technological pathway to a future of innovation. Specifically in the retail and e-commerce spaces, Bluetooth is being used and innovated upon as a tool for wireless payments.
Purchase terminals in most stores are being fitted with Bluetooth technology, which allows phones and even certain credit cards to transmit all of the necessary secure data without having to swipe your insert a method of payment.
As more and more of our banking and payment technology get's wireless capabilities, paying for goods and services will get easier and easier through Bluetooth.
The technology is also being used to innovate in the medical space. Bluetooth can and is being used for wireless patient monitoring, like life support data. It's also helping hospitals with secure data transfer between systems, in many cases allowing for data transfer to be automated as opposed to manually having to plug data storage into each device.
Bluetooth is also starting to be integrated into patient monitoring devices as well. Think of electrocardiogram leads that didn't have wires, or blood pressure cuffs that didn't need to be plugged into a big beeping monitor. In a sense, Bluetooth will allow medical devices to transition from clustered wired devices to "connected" internet of things devices.
Finally, Bluetooth is innovating in the travel industry. It allows things like ticketless boarding and even wireless passport processing at ports of entry. Can you imagine a day in the near future where you don't have to hassle with pulling out all of your travel documents while also not wearing shoes and trying not to forget something on the other side of security? While that may just sound like a dream, Bluetooth may soon allow all of this data to be transmitted securely and wirelessly throughout your travel process.
Bluetooth is really just becoming an effective driver of the growth of the internet of things on a scale beyond the manufacturing industry.
So, to sum up, Bluetooth technology, it’s like a virtual cord between devices that allows you to communicate fast, efficiently, and securely. It is the center of what makes wireless technology possible. Bluetooth is magic.