What Is Bluetooth: The Ultimate Guide

Anytime you try to do anything online these days, the system either insists that you use Bluetooth (headphones and other Bluetooth devices) or insists that you get rid of it (refreshing Sirius XM). Most of us have heard of Bluetooth, but if asked, what is Bluetooth, would be completely unable to answer the question.  

What is Bluetooth? 

Bluetooth is a short-range technology for wireless communication.  It allows wireless devices like mobile phones to transmit data or voice wirelessly over short distances.  Bluetooth's purpose was to replace the USB cables that ordinarily connected electronic devices while securely maintaining the communication between the devices.  Named for Harald Bluetooth, a Denish King, Bluetooth technology brings together various devices throughout different industries by using a unifying communication standard.  

What is the origin Bluetooth?

First developed in 1994, Bluetooth was designed as a wireless technology for replacing cables.  It uses short-wavelength UHF radio waves at 2.4GHz frequency, as do cordless mobile phones and WiFi routers.  Bluetooth creates, in effect, a personal area network (PAN) or piconet with a 10-meter diameter.  The piconet can network between two and eight wireless devices.  This allows you to send your streaming signal to all your smart TVs and pages to your printers without running cables.

What are the advantages of Bluetooth?

Bluetooth offers some significant communication advantages.  Among these are:

  • Low power consumption
  • Easy upgrades
  • Easy to use - just enable both devices
  • Avoids interference from other wireless devices
  • Better range than others, such as infrared
  • Does not need a line of sight, so can go through obstacles 
  • Free if the device is created with Bluetooth
  • Uses frequency hopping to maintain a robust and stable connection
  • Connects all kinds of devices, no matter who made them 
  • Widely adopted:  headphones, car systems, printers, webcams, keyboards, and mice.

What are the disadvantages of Bluetooth?

Of course, there are also disadvantages to using Bluetooth.  Some of them include:

  • Occasional dropped connections
  • Low bandwidth compared to WiFi
  • It is very short range.
  • Uses a lot of battery power
  • It is readily findable, making it readily hackable when in public spaces
  • It is hackable, although the short distances required make it difficult.
  • Slower than WiFi or USB

Different Types of Bluetooth

There are several types of Bluetooth technologies. 

  • Bluetooth Classic - (also known as Basic Rate or Enhanced Data Rate) is a low-power radio that transmits on channels in the unlicensed industrial, scientific, and medical frequency band.  It is the standard protocol for wireless speakers, headphones, and car entertainment.  It also allows for mobile printing.
  • Bluetooth 4 - From 2010 to 2014, Bluetooth 4 was in everyday use.  It is still useful because it is backward-compatible.  You can pair devices using Bluetooth 4 with newer iPhones, for example.  
  • Bluetooth 5 Since 2016, Bluetooth 5 has significantly increased the data transfer speed of Bluetooth up to 2 Mbps, twice what Bluetooth 4.2 could do.  It also continued the expansion of the piconet to 240 meters.  Most devices can still pair with the earlier versions of Bluetooth.  
  • Bluetooth Low Energy - Bluetooth Low Energy features very low power operation.  It uses 40 channels in the same frequency band and offers developers tremendous flexibility.  It supports many communication topologies, supporting the creation of large-scale device networks.  It is now a vital technology for high accuracy indoor location.

What Is the Range of Bluetooth?

The short answer to the question of Bluetooth's range is longer than a meter but as long as a kilometer, depending on the circumstances.  Factors entering into the effective range of a Bluetooth connection include:

  • Radio spectrum - The lower the frequency, the longer the range, but also the slower the data rate.
  • PHY - The physical layer of a wireless technology which defines the modulation scheme it uses to send data.  It includes the number of available channels, how well they are used, the use of error correction, and interference countermeasures.  
  • Receiver sensitivity - What is the minimum signal your device can detect?  
  • Transmit power - The higher the transmit power, the greater the range and, unfortunately, the power consumption of your device.
  • Antenna gain Your system will work better with a better antenna.
  • Path loss  - Reduction in signal strength as it moves through the air.  

How Secure is Bluetooth? 

When two Bluetooth devices connect for the first time, this is a pairing that you must approve.  That approval requirement helps to make Bluetooth relatively secure.  Usually, the devices will remember one another and connect automatically after that.  

How Safe is Bluetooth?

Ionizing electromagnetic radiant energy (EMR) is a general term for the various waves of the electromagnetic field. Ionizing EMR is short-length, higher frequency waves.  They include x-rays and gamma rays.  Ionizing EMR has longer waves and lower frequencies and cannot make changes in an atom.  Bluetooth is non-ionizng.  These rays can pass through the human body, causing no harm.  Since Bluetooth is non-ionizing, it is considered safe and has a low specific absorption rate, also evidence that it lacks danger.  

What is BlueSmacking?

Bluesmacking is a common attack format in which a hacker or other adversary floods your Bluetooth by transferring large data packets to your Bluetooth device.  The goal is to create a medium severity Denial of Service event.  Fortunately, this attack must be executed close to the Bluetooth-enabled device.

What is BlueJacking?

Bluejacking is a style of hacking that allows an individual to send anonymous messages to Bluetooth-enabled devices within a certain radius of the attacker.  The jacker scans the area for devices and then sends an unsolicited message.  It does not actually hijack your device, such as a mobile phone, and can be avoided by putting your device on invisible status.

What is BluesSnarfing?

Bluesnarfing is a severe attack seeking to steal your wireless device information through a Bluetooth connection.  By exploiting the way Bluetooth works on a cellphone, an attacker can access your calendar appointments, contact details, and emails and texts, leaving no trace of the theft behind.  Operating in invisible mode helps in some but not all Bluetooth devices.  

What is BlueBugging?

Bluebugging is a hack that allows the hacker to access any devices with a discoverable Bluetooth connection. Once the targeted device accesses a pre-rigged link, the attacker can fully control the device.  The hacker can read and send messages, access the phonebook, and initiate or listen in on phone calls.  Bluebugging initially focused on computers but has now focused its attention on smartphones.  It is similar to bugging a landline phone, but the bugger doesn't need physical access to the phone.  

How to use Bluetooth Safely?

There are ways to provide your Bluetooth devices and use Bluetooth safely.  Among the best safety practices are:

  • Always install security patches and updates; set them for an auto-update if possible - Companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have been adept and responsive at repairing vulnerabilities.  Always keep your apps and systems up to date.
  • Set your Bluetooth device so that it is not discoverable - Making it harder to discover your phone provides a great deal of protection.  Make sure all your Bluetooth devices are set to not discoverable.  On iPhones, you're only discoverable when actually on the Settings>Bluetooth screen; just be sure to close your settings app when you no longer need it.  . You can make other Bluetooth devices, including Macs, Androids, and Windows, not discoverable as well.  
  • Don't share sensitive or private information via a Bluetooth connection. Don't share confidential information when you're on Bluetooth.  You should send any such information on a more secure connection.
  • Be careful who you connect or pair with - Don't accept a connection request unless you know who sent it.  If you don't know who's asking or why decline the connection.  Only connect with those you want to connect with. 
  • Turn your Bluetooth off when you're not using it - To save battery and to be safer, turn Bluetooth off except when you actually need it.  This is especially true in public areas full of strangers who would love to pair with you.
  • Don't pair in public - Find a secure location for a first pairing. For security reasons, don't leave your phone in pairing mode when in public.  
  • Unpair Bluetooth devices if you no longer need that pairing - Get rid of old pairings you no longer need.  

A VPN can make your system more secure, but it doesn't really help with your Bluetooth.  Nonetheless, they have so many benefits that you probably should consider one.

How is Bluetooth used today?

Today, Bluetooth is central to the use of wireless peripherals for computers and other wireless devices.  Bluetooth is becoming a popular means of operating our entertainment devices.  It's faster than infrared and more responsive.  You can also use Bluetooth to tether your phone and laptop together.  Tethering allows you to transfer files, share your mobile data or WiFi on your phone with your computer.  

There is a world of other devices that can be connected via Bluetooth:  your Bluetooth mouse can connect to your PC, tablet, or even smartphone; so will your Bluetooth keyboard.  Bluetooth isn't just for your phone or other mobile device in your car.  It lets you listen to smartphone music on a wireless headset in your car or use your car speakers and tether a smartphone to your GPS for live updates.  WiFi printers often connect via Bluetooth as well.  Finally, Bluetooth can help you control all your smart home systems, like Amazon Echo and Google Home.    

The Future of Bluetooth

Ultimately, the question isn't what is Bluetooth.  Instead, the question or questions should be how can Bluetooth continue to expand the world?  What other wireless technologies will it be useful for?  It may seem like an old technology, but it continues to find new uses and new devices to connect.  

Develop Hardware with The Bluetooth Experts

Ovyl can help you go into the future with Bluetooth.  If you have a great product idea, Ovyl can help you break into hardware development through its seamless integration of high-end design and high-tech electronics, creating high-satisfaction customer experiences.  Who knows what other device might transform the world yet again?  For further information, contact Ovyl today.  

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