Bluetooth: It Does More Than You Think

Bluetooth wireless connection standard can control your mouse, headset, car, smartphone and more.

By now, Bluetooth is a familiar word. The short-range, low-power wireless connection standard is more than likely in not only your laptop, tablet and smartphone, but also possibly in your car and maybe even in wearable uses such as your running shoes and eyeglasses. But even though it’s become ubiquitous, do you know all the things Bluetooth can do?

Here’s a look at how Bluetooth works, some of the useful things it can do and where the standard is headed next.

Bluetooth Basics

Bluetooth Icon

Bluetooth uses radio waves in the 2.4 GHz frequency to transmit voice, music, video and other data between devices that are Bluetooth enabled. Depending on the class of the device, it has a range of 3 feet (Class 3) to 328 feet (Class 1), and data transmission speed of up to 24 MBps.

Bluetooth has become a favored option for some applications over Wi-Fi because of its ability to transmit through walls and solid objects at a much lower power usage than standard Wi-Fi. The most-current technology — Bluetooth v4.1, also sometimes referred to as Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth Low Energy — provides faster service while using less energy than previous versions.

Did you know? Devices using Bluetooth 4.1 now pair with each other and send their combined data to a host unit. In earlier versions, each device would transmit its data independently, resulting in greater energy use.

Ways to Use Bluetooth

Bluetooth is generally considered easy to use — mostly because you pretty much turn it on and forget about it. For example, two Bluetooth-enabled and paired devices, such as a smartphone and a car, can share or transmit data. A computer with Bluetooth turned on can be capable of online communication through programs such as Skype, wireless mouse and keyboard usage, and remote printing. A Bluetooth headset enables you to take and make calls while driving. You can even link multiple remotes for your television or video game systems through Bluetooth.

Did you know? Smart keys can use Bluetooth technology to unlock your car door without a physical key, or even start your auto’s engine before you’ve even entered the vehicle.

Give it a try. You can use Bluetooth to help guard against theft or loss of an item by pairing it to a mobile phone and then having an alert go off on the phone when the handset and its paired item become separated and the connection is lost.

 

What’s next? Technology under development includes Bluetooth-driven bracelets or rings that allow you to write on a white board or draft text messages on a projected screen from across the room by using specific hand gestures.

How to Use Bluetooth

A Bluetooth-capable device has one or more icons on it to help you determine the ways that you can use Bluetooth on the device. For example, a headset icon means Bluetooth can transmit audio and voice signals between headphones, headsets, audio sources and mobile devices. Nearly all newer (2011 or later) laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones are Bluetooth capable.

Connect your phone. To pair your smartphone to another Bluetooth-capable phone, go to each phone’s “Settings” and find the “File/Data transfer options” to synchronize the two phones. (The exact procedure will vary depending on the model of your phone.)

Connect your car. Pairing the phone to your car will be similar to pairing with another phone, except you may also have to find the phone pairing/Bluetooth function on your car’s dashboard to complete the connection. If your phone’s Bluetooth connection is already on, more than likely you’ll only have to take care of things involving your car. Your owner’s manual will probably tell you exactly what needs to be done.

Transfer data. For data transfer involving other devices, turn the Bluetooth function on each device, if it’s not already on. You can also use data synchronization software or you can download an app that will allow you to quickly transfer data from one Bluetooth device to another.

 

Connect your computer. On a PC, first go to the “Control Panel” and search for Bluetooth. Then select “Change Bluetooth settings” or go to the app icon area of your taskbar and right-click the Bluetooth icon and then select “Open Settings.” Then, under “Discovery,” select “Allow Bluetooth devices to find this computer.” While you’re still in the “Control Panel,” go to “Hardware and Sound > Devices and Printers,” and select “Add a Device.” A list of all available units will appear. Select an appropriate one and click “Next.”

Is My Bluetooth On?

For most laptop users, Bluetooth kicks in when the machine goes on. Turning it off depends on your system. In some cases, there’s a button or switch on the lower front or side of the machine to turn the tool on or off.

You can also go to the “Control Panel” and search for “Bluetooth” and then select “Change Bluetooth settings.” You can also go to the app icon area of your taskbar and right-click on the Bluetooth icon, then select “Open Settings.” Then, under “Discovery,” select “Allow Bluetooth devices to find this computer.” You can also go to “Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center” and click “Change Adapter Settings,” right-click “Bluetooth Network Connection” and select “Enable/Disable.”

On smartphones, go to your phone’s “Settings,” find the “Wireless and networks area,” and turn Bluetooth on or off.

Give it a try. You can also opt to put your smartphone, tablet or laptop into Airplane Mode, which turns off all wireless communications on your computer. Consult the user guide for your device to find out how.

The History of Bluetooth

Created by telecommunications services provider Ericsson in 1994, Bluetooth wireless technology was originally conceived as a wireless alternative to Serial RS-232 data cables, which were the standard for data transmission at that time. Four years later, the original group of promoter companies — Ericsson, Intel, Nokia, Toshiba and IBM — formed the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) to preserve and advance Bluetooth technology. The product’s popularity has grown tremendously in recent years: In 2013, more than 3 billion Bluetooth-enabled products shipped worldwide, according to ABI Research. SIG estimates the figure will grow to more than 20 billion by 2017.

Did you know? The name “Bluetooth” comes from the 10th century Danish King Harald Blåtand (Harold “Bluetooth” in English). King Blåtand united warring factions in parts of what are now Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Similarly, Bluetooth technology was created as an open standard to allow connectivity and collaboration between different products and industries.