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Bluetooth Technology: What Has Changed Over The Years

image of bluetooth technology
Table of Contents

You’ve almost certainly used a Bluetooth headset or earpiece. You or someone you know has probably used a Bluetooth-enabled device to listen to music. Maybe you’ve even used one to find a misplaced cell phone or to track the progress of your fitness routine.

The technology behind Bluetooth has evolved significantly over the last 20 years and can now be found in almost all of our electronics, including smartphones, headphones, speakers, smartwatches, computers and many others. Here at Jaycon, we work with Bluetooth modules for both prototyping and mass production. For some, it has become an essential part of everyday life.

The latest version, Bluetooth 5, has been a hot topic for developers and customers for its promising internet of things (IoT) experience, along with its improvements in speed, range and data capacity.

But have you ever wondered how this ubiquitous technology has developed over time?

If you’re looking to make the connection between the origins of Bluetooth and its applications today, read on. We’ve compiled a timeline and brief overview of some of the previous versions leading up to the creation of Bluetooth 5.

What is Bluetooth technology and how did it get started?

As you probably know, Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology used to transfer data between devices.

Operating in the frequencies between 2.4 and 2.485 gigahertz (GHz), Bluetooth connectivity is modeled on the packet-based protocol, which consists of dividing data into packets and transmitting each packet on one of the 79 designated Bluetooth channels.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) formed in 1998 to oversee the development, licensing and trademarking of this technology. The SIG, originally comprised of five companies — Ericsson, IBM, Nokia, Toshiba and Intel — grew to 400 members by the end of its first year and now has 30,000 member companies.

Before the group developed the standard, however, there were some fragmented efforts aimed at naming and establishing it. Initially, Intel called its technology “Biz-RF,” while Ericsson called its mechanism “MC-Link” and Nokia used the terms “‘Low Power-RF.”

Then longtime Intel engineer Jim Kardach proposed that the name Bluetooth be used — at least temporarily. In a 2008 article, Kardach wrote that the name “was borrowed from the 10th century, second King of Denmark, King Harald Bluetooth; who was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.”

The idea for the name serendipitously stemmed from a conversation with a colleague and a book about Vikings that Kardach happened to be reading at the time. Needless to say, it stuck.

Now let’s take a look at the technology’s progression over time.

2004: Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR

While the first mobile phone with Bluetooth capacity appeared on the market in 2000, the technology became much more widespread in 2004. That could have been because the version released that year made it easier for people to use the technology in their day-to-day activities.

The most important feature of version 2.0 was the implementation of Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) technology. This allowed users to theoretically boost data transfer to a maximum of 3 megabits per second (Mbit/s). In reality, however, it could be boosted to 2.1 Mbit/s.

Power consumption was also cut in half in comparison to the previous version. The encryption in this version was optional, however, as was EDR, and could even be disabled.

2007: Bluetooth 2.1

The most important feature of this version was the implementation of Secure Simple Pairing (SSP). As you’ve probably guessed, this system made the pairing process simpler and more secure. With SSP, a required encryption for all connections made man-in-the-middle attacks more difficult. These forms of attacks consist of third parties intercepting and relaying messages between two parties who think they are talking to each other directly.

Sniff subrating was another important feature of this version. This feature was designed to increase the battery life in devices that are inactive most of the time — such as keyboards and headsets — by reducing the active duty cycle of Bluetooth devices.

Lastly, the introduction of Extended Inquiry Response (EIR) enhanced the filtering of devices that appeared when scanning for connection.

2009: Bluetooth 3.0 + HS

The key feature of this version was its high-speed data transfer. With the help of 802.11 Wi-Fi radio, it could reach data speeds of up to 24 Mbit/s — over 11 times faster than just three years prior. It was able to transfer large amounts of data by using the 802.11 link for faster transmission while still using Bluetooth radio for discovery, connection, and configuration.

The use of Wi-Fi radio, in addition to the implementation of an enhanced power control feature, made it possible to efficiently use power. Even though using Wi-Fi radio may require more power, it remains off most of the time until data transfer is required.

The introduction of unicast connectionless data (UCD) also allowed this version of the device to be more responsive. This version also permitted near-field communication (NFC).

2010: Bluetooth 4.0

Improved connectivity and range, along with the introduction of a low-energy protocol, were the highlights of this version. Before Bluetooth SIG adopted it in 2010, the project was being developed by Nokia under the name Wibree.

Bluetooth 4.0 — also called Bluetooth Smart — was mainly designed to frequently transmit data to devices, such as smart devices, while saving power. That allowed for the use of batteries as small as coin cells, enabling a new way of gathering data from sensors, such as heart rate monitors and thermometers. Health and fitness companies took advantage of the new feature by creating all kinds of devices that can monitor and transmit physical data to a smart device.

Aside from the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) feature, this version also introduced the Generic Attribute Profile (GATT), used to provide the profile of the device, and Security Manager (SM) services with AES encryption.

Chip designs for Bluetooth 4.0 allowed two types of implementations: dual-mode and single mode. The first one is used to create a 100-percent pure BLE device, while the second implements BLE protocol on an already existing Classic Bluetooth controller. This version also allowed NFC communication.

2013: Bluetooth 4.1

This version was introduced in 2013 with very few changes in hardware, speed and range. On the software side, however, there were some significant improvements.

With today’s big influence of IoT, Bluetooth 4.1 focused on laying the groundwork to drive IoT devices. With its new protocol, it could indirectly connect devices through the cloud that would have otherwise been out of range.

Another improvement of this version was its ability to coexist with LTE radios. Before this version was adopted, Bluetooth and LTE did not get along, causing issues such as poor performance and battery drainage when trying to use them simultaneously.

This version also allowed developers and manufacturers to have more control over connections. Instead of having a fixed timeout period, Bluetooth 4.1 let you specify reconnection times and disconnect thresholds. Because of this, Bluetooth devices were treated “uniquely” and could better manage their own power, as well as the power of a connected device.

Additionally, while an intermediary host between peripheral devices was required with previous Bluetooth versions, the 4.1 version offered the ability to simultaneously treat any device as both a peripheral and a hub. That meant peripherals could talk to each other without the need for a host. If you wanted to use a smartphone, a pedometer and a smartwatch, for example, the smartwatch and pedometer could talk to each other directly without having to communicate with the smartphone.

2014: Bluetooth 4.2

This Bluetooth version was introduced in 2014 by Bluetooth SIG to get rid of range barriers once and for all by allowing devices to use Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) for direct internet access. This meant that sensors and smart devices could transmit data directly over the internet.

Another cool thing about this version was its increase in speed and privacy. Bluetooth 4.2 increased the technology’s capacity for data packets by about 10 times, making it 2.5 times faster than the previous version. The security features of this Bluetooth version made it harder to track your device without permission.

2016: Bluetooth 5

Bluetooth 5 is pretty much a combination of the previous Bluetooth versions on steroids. It’s all about IoT, speed, range and data capacity.

Officially adopted by the SIG in December 2016, its purpose is to optimize wireless technology by increasing the functionality of Bluetooth for the IoT. With this version, we see a further departure from the app-to-device-pairing connection model and a continued move toward connecting devices directly through the internet.

Aside from the improvements involving IoT, Bluetooth 5 is two times faster, has four times more range and eight times more capacity. Having twice the speed allows faster data transfer and software updates while making devices more responsive.

A longer range means you can stop worrying about having to stay too close to a device to stay connected. According to the new specs of this version, you can be as far as 120 meters away from a device! That’s nearly 400 feet.

This version also offers a happy coexistence with other wireless technologies, which is becoming especially important as we enter the complex world of IoT. It also offers great flexibility, lossless and secure communication, and a low-energy functionality.

Here’s an overview of the Bluetooth versions you read about above:

image of comparative table of year introducted bluetooth

If you’re developing a hardware product that requires Bluetooth technology, Jaycon Systems can help. Of the hundreds of new hardware products Jaycon works on every year, Bluetooth is one of the most demanded and promising technologies. Wireless technology like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and RFID will usher in a data-driven future.

From hardware design to firmware engineering, Jaycon has the tools and capabilities to implement the latest Bluetooth technology to your product. Get in touch with Jaycon today to take your hardware product to the next level.

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