We Know: All About Bluetooth Technology

What Is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a type of wireless personal area network, or PAN. This is not a standard wireless network; Bluetooth devices don't talk to a central server or wireless access point. Instead, Bluetooth devices talk to one another.

Bluetooth-enabled devices include:

  • Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)
  • Advanced mobile phones
  • Laptops
  • Personal computers
  • Computer peripherals like printers, scanners, and cameras
  • Digital cameras and other small handheld devices


What is the range of Bluetooth?

Bluetooth devices work on a very short range, between 10 centimeters and 400 meters depending on power, and transmit information securely. On most consumer-grade devices the range is about 10 meters (about 30 feet). Bluetooth is ideal for passing low-bandwidth information quickly and securely from one device to another. Examples are passing file information to and from cell phones, PDAs, and laptops. PDAs used by medical personnel are also heavy users of Bluetooth to collect information from medical equipment. GPS receivers sometimes use Bluetooth, and some hands-free technologies for cars use Bluetooth.

How does Bluetooth work?

Bluetooth devices can communicate with up to 7 other devices at any given time (the group of 8 devices is called a "piconet") through infrared radiation at the ISM band 2.45 GHz, at a rate up to 2.1 Mbps; fast, but not as fast as most WiFi communication today. Each device has a unique 48-bit address, keeping it secure during transmission. When you've established communication with another device, they share a "passkey," which requires cryptographic authentication.

The main advantages Bluetooth technology has over WiFi is that it uses inexpensive hardware and low power for communicating, and it can communicate with a wider variety of devices. You can get Bluetooth adapters for non-Bluetooth devices.

Are Bluetooth devices secure?

When using Bluetooth, you should be careful. Bluetooth devices can easily be unencrypted if you don't know what you're doing, and if you send personal information out through your Bluetooth device it can be intercepted more easily than with a regular WiFi network. It's a good idea to learn how your Bluetooth works on devices like your PDA and cell phone before using it. Wireless headsets using Bluetooth can also be broken into by hackers, but this is not likely to be done casually. Still, overall, Bluetooth technology is more secure than WiFi, and less attractive to hackers.

What's in Bluetooth's future?

The most valuable potential use for Bluetooth technology in the future is VoIP, telephone technology using Internet and Ethernet wiring instead of traditional telephone wires. VoIP is cheap, sometimes free, and pairing it with Bluetooth could make everyone's phone wireless as long as it remains in range of the business's wireless network. It could also be used for wireless music and video delivery, and for such science-fiction applications as using your Paypal account through your PDA to buy soft drinks from a Bluetooth-enabled vending machine.

Ultimately, Bluetooth is intended to unify disparate technologies; your television remote and your telephone, your car's electronic system and your home's garage.

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