Bluetooth Version Compared: What’s the Difference?

photo of Jarrett Ziemer

by Jarrett Ziemer on October 4th, 2021 in Learn

The year 2000. Two thousand zero zero. The year of Willenium, the Y2K bug, and the promise of a scientifically forward world launched into the future.

Now Prince is gone, and Will Smith is back to acting, thankfully, so maybe everything didn’t pan out. One thing did, though, was technological advancement. And that’s because the year 2000 also brought the world something nearly every modern consumer can’t live today without, Bluetooth.

From wireless buds to woofers and health monitors to safety trackers, Bluetooth has become a staple part of nearly everyone’s existence. The Millennium promised the tech, and it delivered.

Now, if you’re curious about how Bluetooth actually works and the difference between the versions, you’re not alone, and here’s a bit of info.

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How Bluetooth Works and What’s the Difference between Versions

How Does Bluetooth work?

Bluetooth works by using short-range radio waves instead of wires or cables to send information. All Bluetooth-enabled devices contain one or multiple small Bluetooth computer chips. Those chips house a Bluetooth radio and Bluetooth conversion software.

What’s the Difference Between Versions?

The main differences between Bluetooth versions are connectivity and data transfer speed, range, message size capacity, and compatibility.

In all cases, it’s advisable to go with the most up-to-date Bluetooth version possible. This is because new Bluetooth versions not only offer faster and better connections but they also feature backward compatibility. Meaning they’ll work in limited proportions with older Bluetooth devices.

Bluetooth Versions: An In-Depth Look

Although released in 1999 and available to the general public by the years 2000/2001, Bluetooth technology got its start way back in 1989. That’s the year a team at Swedish company Ericsson Mobile was tasked with creating a short link radio technology. The tech needed to be capable of transmitting data between personal computers and wireless headsets.

By the mid-90s’ the project codenamed “Bluetooth” had launched an early standardized version of the technology. In 1997 that tech caught the eye of the head of a little company called IBM. The rest is history.

Bluetooth Versions 1.0-1.2

The first version of Bluetooth made available to the general public was initially used to connect external hardware devices to computers. With the upgraded version 1.2, that list of devices quickly increased to cell phones, headsets, cars, laptops, and cameras.

The early versions had a data transfer speed of around 1 Mbps and a range of about 30 ft. So, although it could handle phone calls, the Bluetooth at the time lacked the bandwidth to transfer large data like music.

Bluetooth Versions 2.0-2.1

By 2005 an international need for faster localized wireless data transfer ushered fourth Bluetooth version 2.0.

The new version has an increased connection range of up to 100 ft and data transfer speeds topping 3 Mbps in Bluetooth 2.1.

Although much faster than its predecessor, Bluetooth 2 still had singificant drawbacks. It had a low bandwidth compared to Wi-Fi, frequent connection loss, poor security, and low battery life.

Green Bluetooth speakers icon isolated on blue background. Bluetooth stereo speaker. Minimalism concept. 3d illustration 3D render

Bluetooth Version 3.0

Bluetooth 3.0, released in 2009, is considered the last of the “classics.” With transfer speeds up to 24 Mbps and Wi-Fi connection compatibility, Bluetooth 3.0 was the first version to offer a real “high speed” connection.

Users of 3.0 were now capable of transferring improved audio and even video data. Unfortunately, Former battery life problems were only exacerbated with 3.0’s increased speed.

Bluetooth Versions 4.0- 4.2

With 2010’s Bluetooth 4.0, the need for longer battery life in smaller and smaller Bluetooth-enabled devices was finally met.

Bluetooth 4.0’s introduced “Bluetooth Low Energy.” With BLE small low power consumption devices like fitness trackers were able finally to meet the real life demands of consumers.

Bluetooth 4.0 and 4.2 also introduced connection distances of up to 200ft, less Bluetooth signal interference, improved pairing, and increased data transmission.

Bluetooth Version 5.0-5.2

Bluetooth 5.2, released in 2020, is the latest version available. It features an increased bandwidth capacity of 2.0 Mbps over Bluetooth 4’s 1.0 Mbps and an even further connection range.

Bluetooth 5 also touts less power consumption, increased message capacity, backward device compatibility, the ability to connect to multiple devices, and decreased interference from LTE.

Should you choose Bluetooth Version 4 or 5?

Considering a device with a more advanced Bluetooth version often means spending more. So is it even necessary?

The simple answer here is yes.

Consumers should look at speed, range, compatibility, power requirements, and connection reliability when comparing Bluetooth versions.

Speed

Bluetooth 5 offers speeds of 2 Mbps, while Bluetooth 4 offers speeds of 1 Mbps. 1 vs. 2 may not seem like much, but it means Bluetooth 5 transfers data at double the rate of 4.

  • Bluetooth 5 is double the speed of 4.

Range

Bluetooth 5 is capable of maintaining a connection at a distance of nearly 800ft outdoors. Bluetooth 4, on the other hand, will cut out around 200ft.

  • Bluetooth 5 has 4X the connection range of 4.

Compatibility

Bluetooth 5 is backward compatible. That means it will connect with devices using older Bluetooth versions. You’ll also want to consider your updated hardware. Many devices running Bluetooth 5 will offer more features when paired with other devices running the same version.

  • Bluetooth 5 offers backward compatibility.

Power Requirements

Bluetooth versions 4 and 5 both feature much lower power consumption rates than the classics. However, Bluetooth 5’s faster speeds and better connectivity mean a reduced battery drain from quicker, easier data transfers.

  • Bluetooth 5 consumes less device power than Bluetooth 4.

Connection Reliability

Bluetooth 5 has a broader selection of data channels to choose from. It also has a built-in feature that allows it to avoid the use of LTE channels while they’re also transmitting data.

  • Bluetooth 5 has fewer connectivity issues than Bluetooth 4.

Woman hand using big tablet double exposure conection icon such as wifi, bluetooth, tranfer, location, airplane in coffee cafe with bokeh light background

The Future of Bluetooth

Back in 2010, when Bluetooth 4.0 introduced Bluetooth Low Energy, allowing devices to occasionally send small bits of data with lower power drain, Bluetooth stepped into the world of the Internet of Things.

The IoT, simply put, is the integration of technology to connect consumer devices. With advancements in technologies alongside Bluetooth, like Radio Direction Finding (RDF) and Received Signal Strength Indicators (RSSI), Bluetooth now has the ability to locate and connect to paired devices with greater ease. The seamless integration and consumer received ease of use means big things for Bluetooth.

In fact, an ABI market study indicates that by 2024 nearly one-third of Bluetooth devices will be a part of the IoT. That means that besides the usually found Bluetooth devices like headsets, phones, and computers, consumers will soon be using Bluetooth-enabled electronics, wearables, appliances, and entertainment devices.

Conclusion

There are undoubtedly a few who will say that they saw this coming, but really who would have guessed the advanced technology and intricate connectivity we experience today.

Hoverboards and flying cars are still things of the future. Still, in its short 20-year existence, Bluetooth technology has grown from being a novelty treat used only by the wealthy to an everyday passive part of all consumers’ lives.

With such forward progression and advancement, understanding how Bluetooth works and the benefits of the newest versions is now a necessity.

At the end of the day, if you remember one thing when it comes to Bluetooth, remember that newer is generally better. With double the speed and quadruple the range of older versions, the latest Bluetooth is taking us to infinity and beyond… Or at least to the IoT and singularity, which feels close enough.

Wifi

Here’s a little something extra. If you’re curious about Bluetooth versions, you might be curious about Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi stands for Wireless Fidelity, and it was, crazy enough, invented by 1940’s Hollywood starlet Hedy Lamarr. The patent for the technology, filed by Lamarr in 1941, was for a device intended for the US Navy to allow the undetected guidance of radio-controlled underwater missiles.

Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi

Although Bluetooth and Wi-Fi both rely on radio signals to send data, Bluetooth uses those signals to pair short-range electronic devices. Wi-Fi instead allows devices not to connect to each other but to the internet.

Besides basic purpose, Wi-Fi allows more multiple device connections and also requires quite a bit more power since it’s often used to transfer more data farther.