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Bluetooth: What exactly is it?

Bluetooth: What exactly is it?

Bluetooth has become ubiquitous with mobile computing over the past few years. Most, if not all devices, now come sporting at least some kind of Bluetooth compatibility, however not everyone uses it or even know what it can be used for. In the following article, we hope to break down a bit for everyone. 

Android bluetooth smart ready
Nowadays, Bluetooth is in a majority of mobile devices. What exactly is it and how does it work? / © Bluetooth

Bluetooth is used to connect hands-free devices. It’s used to transfer files to and from devices. It’s used to connect peripherals, such as keyboard and mice, to your PC or mobile device. And that’s just touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Bluetooth. The big draws for using Bluetooth as the connection of choice for many people is the fact that it’s wireless, inexpensive, and once configured, will automatically connect.

History of Bluetooth

bluetooth logo
The logo itself comes from the runic symbols of Harad Bluetooth, from whom the technology is named after. / © Bluetooth

This was probably the most interesting feature I found when looking up information about Bluetooth. Supposedly, the namesake of this form of connection stems from Harald Bluetooth, a king of Denmark in the late 900s AD. He united Denmark and a part of Norway into a single kingdom and improving the communication lines in the area during his reign. As such, the Bluetooth technology that was introduced in the mid-1990s by Ericsson was named after him and the Bluetooth logo combines the runic symbols of Harald’s initials.

How it works

Bluetooth transmits data via low-powered radio waves and communicate on a frequency between 2.402 GHz and 2.485 GHz.  When Bluetooth compatible devices come within range of each other, an electronic conversation happens between the device in an attempt to determine whether they have data to share with each other, or whether one can be controlled by the other (for example, a Bluetooth mouse). Once a connection is made, the devices create a personal-area network (PAN) amongst each other, which can be as large as 50 meters.


One of the key features of Bluetooth, is the fact that it provides several security modes in order to control or limit who has access to its PAN. In most cases, Bluetooth users can establish “trusted devices” that can exchange data without having to ask for permission each and every time. When another device tries to access the same PAN, the user has to decide to allow or deny it.

As well, a user can also set their device to a “non-discoverable” mode and avoid connecting with other Bluetooth devices.

As with everything though, there are both exploits that can be used to access and send files via Bluetooth without permission and most of these can be combated by being aware of what you’re accepting and doing with your Bluetooth device.  Always be aware of what you’re connecting to when you’re using Bluetooth and avoid accepting connections/files from unknown devices.

Bluetooth Evolution

Bluetooth was invented by Ericsson in 1994 as means of transferring information wirelessly over short distances. A few years later, Ericsson joined with Intel, Nokia, and Toshiba to form the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) to oversee the development of this new technology.

After the creation of the SIG, Bluetooth became commercially available in mobile phones around 2000 and was soon rolled out to a multitude of devices, including laptops, mice, printers, cameras and more.  While the first few iterations of Bluetooth were useful in “pairing” devices together, it was still relatively slow compared to traditional means of transferring files.

cellphone david beckham
Headsets were one of the first applications for Bluetooth and continue to be extremely popular. / © internationalday.blogspot.de

With the launch of Bluetooth 2.1 in 2007 (one of the first big changes to the Bluetooth protocol), we saw an improvement of almost five fold in terms of power consumption and a vast improvement over pairing devices.  This is around the same time that Bluetooth started to become standard in most mobile devices, as the changes provided some much needed benefits for the mobile computing field.

The progression continued in 2009 with the release of Bluetooth 3.0 which bumped up the data transfer speed to 24Mbps. It also introduced peer-to-peer communication between mobile devices, allowing users to play games together over Bluetooth as well.

The final update to Bluetooth was the release of Bluetooth 4.0 in 2010. While it hasn’t seen as big of a boost to its popularity that came with the release of Bluetooth 3.0, it has a huge potential in the coming years. Another reduction in power consumption came with version 4.0 and also introduces the possibility of replacing many sensor style applications, such as heart rate monitors and pedometers.

As you can see, Bluetooth is a little more intricate then what you might have first thought. Whether you use it everyday or are completely opposed to it, it’s easy to see that it’s definitely not going anywhere anytime soon. 

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