'What is Bluetooth?': A beginner's guide to the wireless technology

ShutterstockYou can use Bluetooth to connect your devices wirelessly.
  • Bluetooth is a wireless technology that allows the exchange of data between different devices.
  • While Bluetooth uses wavelength to transmit information, it generally only works within a short distance for the devices to stay connected.
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Chances are good that you are familiar with how Bluetooth technology works – you probably have used it to pair your iPhone with your AirPod or connect your favourite music program with a speaker.

In the simplest terms, Bluetooth is the technology that enables exchange of data between devices within a short amount of distance.

What separates Bluetooth radio waves from the broadcast sent out by your favourite pop station is the fact that Bluetooth waves don’t travel very far and are constantly switching frequencies.

Most Bluetooth devices have a maximum connectivity range of about 30 feet, and that distance is reduced when obstacles (such as a wall) are present.

Twelve South AirFly Pro Bluetooth TransmitterAppleHardware ranging from headphones, a wireless mouse, or the sound system in a car can all use Bluetooth technology.

Now, as for the constant frequency changing? That’s another part of the story entirely.

Bluetooth connections are secure wireless connections

Devices connected through Bluetooth are generally secure and safe against hacking.

This is because they operate on any of various different frequencies, and the devices hop between these frequencies hundreds of times per second.

It’s called “frequency hopping spread spectrum,” and it all but ensures that your Bluetooth devices can’t be hacked – not by way of the Bluetooth signal, at any rate.

What Bluetooth is used for

As mentioned earlier, Bluetooth is often used to pair mobile devices with other mobile or fixed devices. This could be your earbuds, your car, and your smart fridge. But it is often also working in ways that are less immediately apparent, such as linking a printer or mouse to a computer.

Because Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are often complementary, working at the same time and offering much the same connectivity, you may not always know which hardware is pairing with which devices. Just know that if in range, devices previously paired via Bluetooth will try to automatically connect.

Mac bluetooth headphonesShutterstockMost smartphones, tablets, and computers only allow pairing with one Bluetooth enabled device at a time.

Because you often won’t even realise when devices are connecting to one another via Bluetooth, it’s a good idea to occasionally pop open your settings app on your phone (or any other device with Bluetooth connectivity), head to the Bluetooth tab, and take a look at all the devices that could potentially connect and note anything that is, in fact, already connected.

And if you ever get rid of a Bluetooth device or plan not to use it for a long time, by all means opt to “Forget this device” in your Settings app so you know you are maintaining control of the connection.

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