What is Bluetooth?

An obscure dental hygiene issue? Something you've heard a friend talk about on their mobile? CNET.com.au explains Bluetooth, what to be aware of when buying Bluetooth products, and what to expect in the future.

An obscure dental hygiene issue? Something you've heard a friend talk about on their mobile? CNET.com.au explains Bluetooth, what to be aware of when buying Bluetooth products, and what to expect in the future.

(Credit: Bluetooth SIG)

Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology used for connecting and transferring information between devices such as mobile phones, laptops, PCs, PDAs, printers, digital cameras, mice and keyboards. Bluetooth makes it easy to connect two devices wirelessly when it would be otherwise impossible to connect them with cables.

In the wireless world, Bluetooth is a snail: home Wi-Fi networks and wireless hotspots are almost 20 times faster. With the latest incarnation of Bluetooth (version 2.0), devices must be within about 15 metres of each other to connect, and achieve data transfer speeds up to 2 or 3Mbps (megabits per second) — real world experiences are usually half of this. Expect an average-length song to transfer from a Bluetooth-capable laptop to a phone with Bluetooth in a minute; pictures or ring tones take about 10 seconds.

If you have Bluetooth on your phone but not on your PC, you can pick up a Bluetooth USB adaptor or "dongle", for under AU$30.

Getting connected

Although different products support different standards of Bluetooth (version 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 2.1), they are backwards compatible — a Bluetooth 2.0 phone will connect to a Bluetooth 1.0 hands-free headset, for example. Confusing matters further, there are different Bluetooth profiles that a device must support if it is to work as intended. Commonly used profiles include:

Hands-free profile (HFP): this profile is used to connect devices like phones with handsfree devices, like the ones pre-installed in many new high-end cars.

File transfer profile (FTP): used to push small files between compatible devices.

Basic imaging profile (BIP): takes care of image transfers between two devices, allowing gadgets to pull or push images, as well as resize and print them.

Advanced audio distribution profile (A2DP): allows two or more devices to share a stereo music stream. This is an important profile to look for when purchasing a new MP3 player or music-focused mobile phone.

Audio/Video remote control profile (AVRCP): the profile responsible for letting devices remotely control the navigation of other devices, like the control of a playlist on your music player by a Bluetooth-enabled headset.

Human interface device profile (HID): connects devices like mice and keyboards to Bluetooth-capable PCs and laptops.

Although Bluetooth has already become a standard inclusion on most mobile phones, laptops and PDAs, expect to see many more devices around the home adopt the technology once the next generation of the standard is finalised by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), a specialised industry body that oversees Bluetooth development.

In 2009, the Bluetooth SIG certified the latest evolution in the technology, known as Bluetooth 3.0, and promised significantly faster data transfers — pushing the sluggish 3Mbps data transfer speed up to 24Mbps while using less power. This increased performance comes thanks to 802.11 radio technology, the same tech behind Wi-Fi wireless networking. While there are no commercially available Bluetooth 3.0 devices, stay tuned for a flood of compatible gadgets in 2010.

And for those wondering why on earth it's called Bluetooth, here is the reasoning on Wikipedia:

The name Bluetooth is derived from the cognomen of a 10th-century king of Denmark, Harald Bluetooth. According to the inventors of the Bluetooth technology, Harald engaged in diplomacy which led warring parties to negotiate with each other, making Bluetooth a fitting name for their technology, which allows different devices to talk to each other. The name of the king in Danish was Harald Blåtand and the Bluetooth logo is based on the H and B runes.

Do you use Bluetooth? What do you use it for? Would you like to know more about how to use Bluetooth? Send your feedback to cnet@cnet.com.au or leave a comment below.

About the author

Hi, I look after product development for CBS Interactive in Sydney - which lets me develop a range of websites including CNET Australia, TV.com and ZDNet Australia.


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