More than just a funny name, discover how Bluetooth is upping the wireless connectivity game yet again with Bluetooth version 5…
When we were tired of being wired, Bluetooth set us free. Now the technology’s evolving, with improved speeds, greater range and more. Join us as we venture behind the scenes in this edition Tech Trivia, including a particularly interesting anecdote around how Bluetooth got its name.
What is Bluetooth?
While Wi-Fi provides access to high speed internet without wires, Bluetooth lets us link disparate devices for the purpose of data transfer. Using radio wave technology, the global wireless standard liberates us from a lifetime of wires so we can play music through Bluetooth speakers, share files with nearby friends, connect a wireless mouse, enjoy a tangle-free commute and more. And, because it’s supported by pretty much every smartphone on the market, it’s become the go-to for wireless connections.
Where did it get its name?
It’s not an acronym and it doesn’t sound particularly ‘techie’, so where did the term ‘Bluetooth’ come from? Would you believe a Scandi king? The Bluetooth name actually dates back millennia to King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ Gormsson.
Known for uniting Denmark and Norway in the year 958, King ‘Bluetooth’ took his nickname from a dead dark blue/grey-coloured tooth (ew). It was put forward as a temporary code name by Intel’s Jim Kardash during a 1996 meeting between Intel, Ericsson and Nokia – three of the five companies who came to form the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) in 1998, which is now a global community of over 30,000 members.
The 1996 meeting was held to plan standardisation of the short-range radio tech. Kardash said a wireless link would unite PC and cellular just as King Bluetooth united Scandinavia. And, despite only ever being intended as a placeholder, before long the name had stuck.
How does Bluetooth work?
Bluetooth comes in two flavours: Basic Rate/Enhanced Data Rate (BR/EDR) and Low Energy (LE). BR/EDR is better suited to continuous connections. This is the connection used for streaming audio through wireless speakers and hands-free in-car systems.
Bluetooth LE, on the other hand, enables short-burst wireless connections. This kind of periodic connection has greater potential for the Internet of Things (IoT). By remaining ‘asleep’ until it’s needed, LE requires much less battery power. It’s generally used for things like blood pressure monitors, fitness trackers and indoor navigation.
What’s new with Bluetooth 5?
Bluetooth 5 is the latest iteration of the tech since Bluetooth 4.2 came out in 2012. It’s a solid number bringing tangible advances, and it first shipped in Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ released in April 2017. The three major improvements? More speed, more range and more capacity for data…
If you’ve ever paired a wireless speaker or your headphones to your smartphone using Bluetooth, you’ll know it’s a little slow. And when you’re watching video, there can be a bit of a disconnect between the sound coming through your headphones and what’s happening on your screen. Good news – Bluetooth 5 is two times faster! As a result, data is transferred twice as quickly for more rapid pairing and sharing and reduced lag.
Range has long been a weakness of Bluetooth connections. The maximum range of Bluetooth up until now has been around 50 metres with a direct line of sight or 10 metres obstructed – around corners or through walls. If you wandered into another room sans phone but with your headphones on, audio would cut out and then stop. So, while there was no physical cord to bind you, you couldn’t stray too far. Bluetooth 5 quadruples that – giving you plenty of room to move. The update allows you to get much further away from your source of audio or data, with a maximum unobstructed range of around 200 metres or approximately 40 metres with obstacles in the way. It also allows for home-wide coverage for IoT devices like smart fridges and more.
Perhaps most exciting about this version is its capacity for data. The data throughput of Bluetooth 5 is eight times that of version 4. Compared to the two-lane highway of the past, it’s now a high-speed autobahn and all that fast-flowing data means you can now connect to more than one wireless speaker or pair of headphones at once. This can be seen in the Dual Audio functionality of the Samsung Galaxy S8, which lets you adjust the volume of each speaker or headset individually – perfect for shared viewing on a train or plane.
This increased broadcast capacity should also boost the uptake of beacon technology – improving navigating in places like shopping centres and airports, some of which are already on-board.
Which devices are Bluetooth 5 compatible?
It is still very early days for Bluetooth 5 and at the moment the Galaxy S8 and S8+ are flying the flag own their own. However, the Galaxy Note and iPhone are expected to follow suit fairly swiftly, and accessories will follow. While you will need Bluetooth 5 speakers or headphones to enjoy greater range and speed, the Dual Audio feature is fully compatible with existing accessories for those with the Galaxy S8 or S8+. So, go ahead and get to sharing! And watch this space for future updates.