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How Does Bluetooth Work?

How Does Bluetooth Work?

Tulie Finley-Moise
Reading time: 5 minutes
The modern digital age has embraced the endless possibilities brought forth by the world of wireless networking. No longer is the everyday person tied down by finicky wires to make phone calls, listen to music, or transfer data. Monumental advances in the past half-decade have led to the departure from physical, wired connections and to Bluetooth devices.
Invented in 1994 by Dr. Jaap Haartsen, Bluetooth has become one of the most omnipresent wireless technologies living inside all of your favorite electronic devices [1]. From your smartphone to your car, your digital world is always invisibly connected. But what exactly is Bluetooth? How does Bluetooth work, and is it secure? We’ll guide you through the ins and outs of this futuristic technology.

What is Bluetooth?

Originally developed as a wireless replacement for physical cables and wires that connected electronic devices, Bluetooth aimed to secure a connection without compromising the security or integrity of the communication quality. Bluetooth is an independent communication standard that does not rely on a WiFi connection for full functionality.
Bluetooth works similarly to traditional AM/FM radio in that both are broadcast signals that are received by radio devices. Bluetooth devices operate at frequencies between 2402 and 2480 MHz, and transmit information to other compatible devices via short signal bursts. This is the same 2.4 GHz frequency that other home and office essentials like WiFi routers and cordless phones function on.

Infrared limitations

Before there was Bluetooth, there was infrared. While infrared was the crowning wireless technology behind television remote controllers, it came with its own difficulties. For example, if there was an object blocking the direct, invisible line of communication between the two communicating devices, let’s say a TV remote and the TV sensor, the transmission would fail.
Bluetooth repaired infrared’s limitations by creating a universal frequency-based communication standard. Designed for short-range connections between digital devices, Bluetooth opened up the radius of transmission, effectively allowing you to use and pair devices up to 30 feet apart.
In essence, Bluetooth is the technology that connects your tablet to your printer, your keyboard to your computer, your smartphone to your car, and so much more.

Why is it called Bluetooth?

The oval-shaped logo adorned with the famous geometric capital “B” has become synonymous with Bluetooth across the globe, but the story behind how engineers arrived at the name Bluetooth is one that few know.
Intel mobile computer engineer Jim Kardach was an instrumental figure in rallying big tech conglomerates like Ericsson, IBM, Toshiba, Nokia, and Intel to create the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG). The Bluetooth SIG aimed to build a low-power, low-cost, wireless short-range radio with device-to-device connectivity and built-in security. With so many tech giants at the helm of this innovative technology, the possibility for organizational chaos was rife.
Kardach played a crucial role as mediator and instigator among the founding companies. As he worked toward bringing the wireless technology to life, he was also reading a book about the second king of Denmark, Harald Bluetooth. King Bluetooth was the 10th-century hero responsible for unifying Scandinavia - not too dissimilar from Kardach’s efforts to unify the world’s leading mobile tech forces.
Bluetooth was originally used as a nickname for the project before an official name was decided upon, but the name became so overwhelmingly popular in the news and media, it ended up sticking.
To make the story even more interesting, the blue symbol for Bluetooth is actually King Harald Bluetooth’s initials in Scandinavian runes. How’s that for an origin story?
Before modern wireless technology, the only way one could hope to connect two devices was through a physical wire or cord. Whether it was printing an important document, blasting your favorite new album, or typing on an external keyboard, you needed at least one cord to make a successful connection. Today, Bluetooth turns a dream of wireless connectivity into a reality.

How does Bluetooth work?

Bluetooth-enabled devices operate on a personal area network (PAN) or a piconet. Piconets create a 10-meter radius wireless network capable of connecting between two and eight devices at a time.
When two Bluetooth devices connect, it’s referred to as a “master-slave relationship.” “Master” devices are responsible for transmitting information while the “slave device” is responsible for listening. In the case of the smartphone and speaker, the smartphone is the “master” while the speaker is the “slave device.”
Understanding how Bluetooth works is best approached by using a real-life example. Let’s take your everyday smartphone and a wireless speaker. Both must be Bluetooth compatible to make a successful connection. This compatibility is dependent on both hardware and software component integration.
The hardware required includes an antenna-equipped chip capable of sending and receiving signals on the same frequency. The integrated software is responsible for interpreting Bluetooth signals and sending them out in formats that are readable and understandable to other Bluetooth devices.
The smartphone will know to send audio files to the speaker in a format it understands, while the speaker will interpret the information as well as other volume and track control indicators from the phone. In a moment’s time, your space is filled with your choice of joyful noise, no cables necessary.

Is Bluetooth secure?

Just like any other wireless technology, Bluetooth is secure so long as it is used with mindful precautions. Connections are encrypted, which means the unique data existing between your devices is translated into a secret code to prevent eavesdropping from nearby devices. And because Bluetooth alternates radio frequencies when paired, it’s more difficult for a cyber-invader to mangle your connection.
It is important for users to understand that Bluetooth hacking is a very real possibility. Bluejacking (sending unsolicited information to your Bluetooth device), Bluesnarfing (stealing data from your Bluetooth device), and Bluebugging (completely taking over your Bluetooth device) are all invasive Bluetooth attacks that can expose your data to an unwanted third-party user [2].

In summary

Your wireless world is always in motion and beautifully backed by the powers of Bluetooth. As devices continue to grow smarter and more capable, the need for wiring and cord-cabling is left behind. The future holds great promise for the face of Bluetooth, and you can count on HP® to be there, empowering our products, every single step of the way.
[1] National Inventors Hall of Fame; Jaap C. Haartsen

About the Author

Tulie Finley-Moise is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Tulie is a digital content creation specialist based in San Diego, California with a passion for the latest tech and digital media news.

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