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How Does Bluetooth® Technology Work?

Key Takeaways

  • Bluetooth devices hop between channels in the 2.4 GHz band to identify the signal pathway with the least interference. This helps ensure consistent performance for end users.

  • Wi-Fi is used to provide network connectivity, while Bluetooth technology delivers 1:1 device communication between a mobile device or PC and a peripheral such as wireless headphones.

  • Intel has played an integral role in Bluetooth technology since its inception and offers integrated Bluetooth functionality in every one of its Wi-Fi adapters.



Bluetooth Technology: Behind the Scenes

Bluetooth technology connects PCs and mobile devices to peripherals such as wireless headphones, keyboards, mice, and gaming controllers. Bluetooth devices communicate via short-range radio transmissions on the 2.4 GHz frequency range.

The 2.4 GHz frequency range offers numerous channels that Bluetooth devices can take advantage of for communication. Paired devices jump between these channels in lockstep, constantly seeking the least interference and best signal quality. This process, known as frequency hopping, helps Bluetooth devices deliver low-latency, consistent performance.

Using Bluetooth devices for the first time with your mobile device or PC requires an initial configuration process known as pairing, where each device exchanges essential information such as device IDs and security keys. Users often need to input a PIN or keycode on one or both devices to authenticate the pairing process. After the initial process, vital connection information is saved to streamline future pairings.

Currently, Bluetooth technology is offered in two distinct versions, Bluetooth Classic and Bluetooth Low Energy (LE). Bluetooth Low Energy is optimized for burst communications that preserve battery life, while Bluetooth Classic is used for applications that require more-frequent and persistent data transfer. Bluetooth Classic has up to 79 2.4 GHz channels at its disposal, while Bluetooth Low Energy has up to 40 channels to hop between.

Bluetooth Technology vs. Wi-Fi

Principally, Wi-Fi is used for internet and networking connections between many devices, while Bluetooth technology is used for a variety of use cases on a device-to-device basis. Wi-Fi operates on the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz frequency ranges, while Bluetooth technology only operates on the 2.4 GHz frequency band. Bluetooth technology is intended for low-latency applications dealing with smaller amounts of data, whereas Wi-Fi provides the bandwidth and capacity to move large files more quickly and easily.

While Wi-Fi technologies and supporting infrastructure must constantly manage data transfer between a large number of devices, Bluetooth technology is focused on data transfers from a host to peripheral at shorter distances.

Unlike Wi-Fi, Bluetooth technology does not require supporting infrastructure such as routers or access points to function. Instead, each Bluetooth device connects directly to the host or hosts. Wi-Fi devices operate on a fixed channel as opposed to hopping between channels frequently like Bluetooth devices. Connecting to a Wi-Fi network for the first time doesn’t require a dedicated pairing mode; users can simply enter any required network credentials and log on.

In the past, many PCs did not offer integrated Bluetooth functionality, so most peripherals shipped with a USB dongle for each device. This could often result in users connecting multiple dongles to their PC, leading to a cumbersome experience and annoyance if a dongle was lost or stopped working. Today, Bluetooth capabilities are commonly integrated into PCs via the same network card that supports the device’s Wi-Fi. This helps streamline usage and conserves ports on the user’s PC for wired peripherals.

The Future of Bluetooth Technology

Bluetooth technology continues to evolve. In July 2022, Bluetooth LE Audio brought better audio quality and lower power consumption to Bluetooth applications as well as support for multistream capabilities such as audio sharing and Auracast broadcasting. The introduction of Auracast also represents a major step forward in using Bluetooth technology for assistive listening devices such as hearing aids.

Intel’s Role in Bluetooth Technology

Since 2011, every Intel® Wi-Fi card has come with integrated Bluetooth functionality, eliminating the need for a separate dongle for Bluetooth connectivity. We’ve been involved in Bluetooth technology since its inception and are a founding member of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG). As part of our involvement with the SIG, Intel works with OEMs and peripheral manufacturers to create detailed Bluetooth implementation specifications. We collaborate with companies throughout our ecosystem to help them leverage these specifications to provide an outstanding end user experience.

We’ve also enabled Intel-based systems to offload essential Bluetooth audio processing capabilities, such as those that would be used to enable wireless headphones, from the CPU to a low-power digital signal processor in the audio subsystem. With this architecture in place, the CPU can enter a deep sleep more often since it’s not required to supply the audio signal to the end user device. This allows the PC to reduce power consumption and extend battery life.

Bluetooth Technology Is a Modern Connectivity Essential

Today, Bluetooth technology is a critical component of our modern, connected lives. The technological capabilities underpinning Bluetooth connectivity allow for simpler and more hassle-free ways to work, play, listen, communicate, and connect.

As Bluetooth technology expands its capabilities, Intel will continue to steward its evolution and empower technologists across the world to create new, amazing Bluetooth experiences through technologies, products, and industry leadership.