Bluetooth is a technology standard for wirelessly exchanging data over short distances using ultra high frequency radio waves in the unlicensed or free-to-use ISM band of 2.4 GHz frequency. Take note that within the electromagnetic spectrum, this frequency falls under the microwave classification and it is the same range used by Wi-Fi routers and microwave ovens. Nevertheless, Bluetooth is a form of wireless communication.
Benefits: The advantages of Bluetooth
1. Wireless Transmission of Data
One of the primary advantages of Bluetooth is that it allows devices to transmit data wirelessly. This advantage translates to more specific benefits to include wirelessly connecting or “pairing” devices to create a wireless personal area network or WPAN, wireless Internet connectivity, and wireless synchronization, as well as conveniently sending and/or receiving files without the trouble of carrying and using cables or other hardware interfacing technology such as the USB standard or Thunderbolt technology.
Note that other applications of wireless connectivity via Bluetooth include remote control between a device and another compatible device or appliance, real-time location systems for locating and identifying objects within a determined distance, personal security for preventing theft or loss of devices such as smartphones, and in health monitoring and recording using Bluetooth-enabled medical devices.
2. Extensive Availability and Accessibility
The numerous applications of Bluetooth demonstrate its extensive and almost universal availability. Most laptops and other mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers come with a built-in Bluetooth hardware. For personal computers that do not have the required hardware component, purchasing and using a Bluetooth adapter will enable them to communicate with Bluetooth-enabled devices.
Complementary devices have been developed and marketed because Bluetooth has seemingly become a standard feature of modern computers, specifically laptops and mobile devices. These devices included wireless speakers and headphones, smart devices such as smartwatches and other wearable technologies for monitoring activities, and Bluetooth-enabled smart home appliances and office equipment, among others.
3. Convenience from Ease of Use
Pairing devices with built-in Bluetooth radio is considerably easy. There is no need to install additional software or driver to establish communication between Bluetooth-enabled devices. There is also no rigorous setup process for two devices to communicate.
The technology simplifies the entire pairing process by making enabled devices readily discoverable to one another as long as that their Bluetooth radios are turned on, and they are within the coverage radius. In addition, the technology also includes a protocol for identifying services using the Service Discovery Protocol and Universal Unique Identifier to list down specific services or features of a particular device. These protocols allow another device to readily determine and display the name and class of a device it intends to pair with, as well as its services or features and technical information.
4. Energy Efficiency
Bluetooth technology is relatively energy efficient, thus promoting further the benefits and convenience that come with wireless data transmission. This is particularly true for the Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE standard. The ultra-low power requirement of BLE makes it ideal for small devices, including wearable technologies, in which minimal battery life requirement and small form factor are critical design and engineering considerations.
The newest iteration to the technology called Bluetooth 4.0 also promises better power efficiency than Bluetooth 3.0. This new specification features the same BLE technology and classic Bluetooth standard found in an older Bluetooth specification, thus allowing the dual mode to take advantage of energy efficiency and faster data transfer rates.
Limitations: The disadvantages of Bluetooth
1. Limited Operational Range
A notable disadvantage or limitation of Bluetooth is its limited range that is dependent on the specific class of radio it uses. Enabled devices can only establish and maintain wireless communication as long as they are within the range limit. To be specific, Class 1 radios have a range of 20 to 30 meters for commercial use and up to 100 meters for industrial use cases, while those with Class 2 radios have a more limited range of up to 10 meters. Class 3 radios operation within the range of fewer than 10 meters.
Obviously, the range of Bluetooth is very limited when compared to Wi-Fi. This makes Wi-Fi more ideal not only for wireless local area networking but also for WPAN, especially if distance is an issue. However, remember that the technology was designed for short-range wireless communication and was not intended as a substitute for Wi-Fi. However, note that Bluetooth has better range than Near Field Communication or NFC technology.
2. Can Be Energy Inefficient
The fact remains that Bluetooth requires minimal energy requirement, especially in the case of BLE. However, in real-world applications, the technology can significantly drain the battery life of a device, particularly if it remains turned on. Note that devices such as smartphones and tablet computers use their battery life for different software processes and to keep its numerous hardware components running. A Bluetooth radio increases the power requirement of a device.
In addition, it is worth mentioning that energy efficiency is dependent on the specific class of radio. Class 1 radios are more power intensive because they have a transmission range of up to 10 meters under 100 megawatts, thus making them suitable for personal computers. Class 2 radios transmit at 2.5 megawatts while Class 3 radios transmit at 1 megawatt. Take note that the longer the range, the greater the power requirement.
3. Slower Transmission Than Other Interface
Another disadvantage of Bluetooth is its slower data transmission rate when compared to other hardware interfacing technologies. To be more specific, Bluetooth 3.0 and Bluetooth 4.0 have a theoretical transmission rate of 24Mbps while Wi-Fi Direct has a transfer speed of up to 250Mbps. Wired hardware interfaces such as USB 3.0 has a transmission speed of up to 5Gbps while Thunderbolt 3 supports a transfer speed of up to 40Gbps.
The aforementioned disadvantage translates to more specific limitations. For example, Bluetooth would not be ideal for transferring large files such as an audio-video content or multiple image documents between devices, particularly for time-sensitive use cases. Coupled with its limited range, the technology is impractical for mid-range to long-range wireless transmission.
4. Possible Security Vulnerabilities
Bluetooth technology implements numerous security measures to prevent unauthorized access. Such measures include confidentiality, authentication and key derivation with custom algorithms. However, there have been numerous cases of security concerns documented by researchers and media organizations, including the use of malware to hack hardware controls and the BlueBorne exploits first reported on September 2017.
Misuse or irresponsible use of Bluetooth-enabled device and other Bluetooth implements can also increase the security vulnerability of an individual or organizations. Such include readily allowing random pairings or keeping the radios turned on without using authorization keys. Note that the technology is susceptible to denial-of-service attacks, eavesdropping, man-in-the-middle attacks, message modification, and resource misappropriation.
5. Compatibility Issues
While the implementation of Bluetooth is based on a standard, compatibility and functionality issues are still common due to a combination of different factors such as the particular version, drivers, and profiles, among others. Take note that although Bluetooth 3.0 and 4.0 are backward compatible with older versions such as Bluetooth 1.0 and Bluetooth 2.0, there are specific instances of incompatibility.
For example, the low-energy technology of Bluetooth 4.0 is not compatible with other classic Bluetooth versions. This means that a device equipped with Bluetooth 4.0 that only has the low-energy technology component will not work with a device equipped with Bluetooth 2.0. Adding to this is the fact that BLE is not compatible with classic Bluetooth.