If you are a smart phone user, you probably know that your phone has Bluetooth. Unlike Wi-Fi, which is one of the most familiar wireless communication methods in use today, it’s not as easy to explain exactly when one can use Bluetooth and what kind of functions it has.
The importance that Bluetooth bears is increasing with the emergence of wearable devices, and various products with Bluetooth are being introduced to the market as we speak. Today, let’s learn about ‘Bluetooth’, a wireless communication method that can help us to use our smart devices much more effectively.
Bluetooth is basically a type of wireless communication technology like Wi-Fi. Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology where as Wi-Fi is a high speed wireless technology that can replace the conventional network. Once you see what kind of products there has Bluetooth, you’ll probably understand what Bluetooth is more easily: Wireless mouse, keyboard, and earphones. Do you see what these products have in common? Yes, they all need to be interconnected with a device like a PC or a smart phone.
In order to connect one of these to your device, you have to go through a ‘pairing’ process, which literally means connecting two devices by having them find each other within reach automatically. Bluetooth pairing is known to provide a speedy and convenient wireless connection compared to other methods including Wi-Fi. It has a downside, however, which is the fact that products with Bluetooth tend to be much more expensive compared to others and its connection is less stable compared to ones using wires. The fact that it uses more electricity is another reason causing consumers to hesitate.
The History of Bluetooth
After going through years of difficulty, Bluetooth is now facing a breakthrough thanks to Bluetooth 4.0 which became the generic technology for some of the hottest technologies such as Beacon and IoT (Internet of Things). As more products with Bluetooth are introduced to the market, many are looking forward to its new era. This change, though, is not just due to the environmental change around this technology, and it’s easy to see the reason once you learn about Bluetooth’s history.
- The 4th generation of Bluetooth, Bluetooth 4.0
The lasted version of Bluetooth available now is Bluetooth 4.1, which was adapted in December, 2013 and it is quite different from the first generation. One of the biggest differences is its speed.
The first generation’s speed was only 721kbit/s and it was also quite inconvenient to use since it blocked other devices that couldn’t be identified during interlock. The second generation partially fixed this problem by applying EDR (Enhanced Date Rate) to improve speed (up to 3 Mbit/s) and SSP to solve the device blocking issue. It also had functions which enabled it to be compatible with NFC.
Since then, Bluetooth started being used a lot more commonly in the IT market. The third generation even topped another notch by increasing the speed by eight times. It adapted PAL (Protocol Adaptation Layer) and enhanced the speed up to 24Mbit/s. This was when people started using Bluetooth to share large files like image files and video files.
This growing technology had another turning point in the fourth generation. It divided Bluetooth into three categories: ‘Classic Bluetooth’ which succeeds the conventional Bluetooth, ‘high speed Bluetooth’ based on Wi-Fi for better speed, and ‘low energy Bluetooth’ which focuses on low power consumption and responsiveness. Low energy Bluetooth was also introduced to the market with other names such as ‘Bluetooth smart’ and ‘Bluetooth smart ready’.
The changes didn’t stop there. It was improved to stably transmit data up to 100m by increasing its modulation index, minimized signal interference, and shortened the time it takes to reconnect when interrupted. This is why the fourth generation Bluetooth was able to become the generic technology for IoT and Beacon.
Will Bluetooth 4.0 Be the Final Answer?
As I explained earlier, Bluetooth technology has advanced in speed and compatibility through generations. However, the biggest reasons for being the generic technology of IoT and Beacon that are in the center of the future of IT are the size and low power consumption. As wearable devices and Beacons should be small in order to be worn or placed inside phones, making a small wireless device was the biggest challenge they faced. It was also important to make it consume less energy since low power is a necessity for smaller and lighter products. Bluetooth 4.0, therefore, was the best answer for these issues.
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Low energy Bluetooth, which is the most commonly called BLE, lasts over a year with a round battery as small as a fingernail. This, and the other advancements in speed, pairing, and interference repair functions were central in Bluetooth becoming the front runner of all short range wireless communication technologies. However, such rosy days may not last long since other wireless technologies like Wi-Fi and NFC are looking for ways to replace Bluetooth.
Will Bluetooth Survive in Such a Flood of Wireless Technologies?
There are a lot of different types of wireless communication technologies that people know of, and they’re looking for every possibility to replace Bluetooth’s spot. Today, I’ll share some information about Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and NFC.
Wi-Fi is a wireless communication technology that was made to replace the conventional internet network using wires, called an Ethernet. It has progressed focusing on speed and capacity and considered to be more Bluetooth’s companion than competition. As Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are both expanding their territories, they seem to blur the boundaries between them, which make Wi-Fi a future competition for Bluetooth.
Zigbee is one of the strongest competitions against Bluetooth. Taking account of power consumption and short range communication that are the biggest selling points for Bluetooth, Zigbee may even be a step ahead. The reason Bluetooth is still a stronger competitor than Zigbee is because many cell phones and laptops already have Bluetooth in them. If new IT devices start using Zigbee instead, the competition could be fiercer.
Lastly, NFC is a technology optimized for very short range wireless communication, and it was mostly used for card readers, bus card readers, and introduction panels for artwork. However, NFC couldn’t bring out the users’ participation due to the fact that it was too close to the conventional card readers which led to a lack of distinguishing UX. Many also turned away from it due to its range being too short.
There are many technologies other than Bluetooth that are establishing their own domains and trying to invade each other’s territory. Will Bluetooth keep its place as a front runner in this competition? Though we can’t see the future, one thing that can be seen as Bluetooth’s challenge is ‘security’. This is actually an issue that all wireless technologies have to solve, and if Bluetooth can come up with an answer to this, it’ll be the cornerstone of its success.
* The name ‘Bluetooth’ has a fun story: Herald Blatrand, a Viking king around the 10th century, loved blueberries so much that they turned his teeth blue, which gave him the nickname ‘Bluetooth’. One of his achievements was unifying the Scandinavian Peninsula by combining Denmark and Norway. The name Bluetooth reflected the developer’s hope to unify the wireless technology field.
Written by Chanmin Kim, University reporter for LG CNS.