Bluetooth Technology

Michael Kwan
Bluetooth Wireless Technology - Headset

Have you ever connected a wireless keyboard to your iPad? Or a wireless headset to your smartphone? If so, there's a good chance that those devices used Bluetooth to pair with one another. It's not the same as Wi-Fi or cellular data, though all of these use wireless technology.

Bluetooth Technology Explained

Cellular phone technology has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the early 1980s, and one of the most important features in modern cell phones is the use of Bluetooth. A little lost in the mix and not really sure why everyone is going bananas over this wireless data transfer innovation? Then keep reading to find out -- in layman's terms -- just what Bluetooth is all about.

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth isn't limited to just mobile phones. It is being implemented in everything from personal digital assistants (PDAs) to full-on laptop computers. Bluetooth is a wireless technology that allows for small amounts of data to be transferred within a short range. More technically speaking, it is an industrial specification for wireless personal area networks (PANs).

Not unlike Wi-Fi (802.11), Bluetooth is meant to be used within a specified range and is sometimes referred to as IEEE 802.15.1. Virtually anything can be sent over Bluetooth, but one of the most common applications of the technology -- for cell phones, specifically -- is the use of wireless handsfree headsets. Other uses include sharing picture and audio files between mobile handsets without having to make use of a pricey data plan.

A prominent competing technology is IrDA or "infrared data association", but IrDA typically requires line of sight, whereas Bluetooth can theoretically work through walls.

Origin of the Name

While many other techie terms sound decidedly techie, Bluetooth is something a little different. Its name comes from a 10th century Danish king -- King Harald Bluetooth (sometimes spelled Blatand, and also known as Harold I of Denmark) -- and thus the universally accepted Bluetooth logo is a combination of the Nordic runes for the letters H and B. Bluetooth was originally just the codename for the developing technology, but it became so widely used (instead of 802.15.1) that everyone started referring to it by its codename.

Specifications

  • 1.0 and 1.0B: Where it all started. The first versions of Bluetooth -- 1.0 and 1.0B -- were quite glitchy and there were many issues pairing different devices.
  • 1.1: Several of the problems presented by 1.0 and 1.0B were addressed with the release of Bluetooth 1.1. They also added support for what is known as "non-encrypted channels."
  • 1.2: Backwards compatible with BT 1.1, Bluetooth 1.2 allowed for faster data transmission speeds and improved resistance to radio frequency interference.
  • 2.0: Devices sporting this version are backwards compatible with 1.1 and 1.2 units. Data transfers are even faster, up to 10 times faster, and power consumption is significantly lower.

Classes

There are three classes of Bluetooth. Increased range comes at the cost of increased power usage.

  • Class 1: Maximum range of 100 meters, maximum permitted power of 100 mW.
  • Class 2: Maximum range of 10 meters, maximum permitted power of 2.5 mW.
  • Class 3: Maximum range of 1 meter, maximum permitted power of 1 mW.

Profiles

  • Handsfree: HID, or Hands Free Profile, was designed to be used in automobiles so that people could chat on their cell phones without actually holding the phone to their ears.
  • Headset: HSP, or Head Set Profile, is probably the profile that you are most familiar with, as it is the one used for all those Bluetooth headsets you see on the market from such companies as Motorola
  • A2DP: Now quite prevalent in music phones, A2DP or "Advanced Audio Distribution Profile" allows for audio to be played back in full stereo through compatible Bluetooth headphones.

Who Makes Bluetooth Headsets?

Just as there are many different manufacturers who make mobile phones, there are also many companies that make Bluetooth headsets. Some of the top names in the industry include the following:

  • Aliph: Makers of the popular Jawbone line.
  • BlueAnt: Focusing on clarity and voice quality.
  • Jabra: Offering a range of styles of headsets.
  • Motorola: Headsets work with non-Motorola phones too.
  • Nokia: Many compact and slender designs.
  • Plantronics: Several models with longer microphone booms.

Be sure to shop around for the best deal, but recognize that the cheapest headset may not be the best option.

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Bluetooth Technology