With the rise of the Internet of Things and wearable electronics, Bluetooth has been forever integrated into our lives – but how does it work?
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.
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 device. These waves are short (~15 meters) so that there isn’t conflicting Bluetooth waves all over the place.
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.
So, to sum up, Bluetooth technology, it’s like a virtual cord between devices that allows you communicate fast, efficiently, and securely. It is the center of what makes wireless technology possible. Bluetooth is magic.