Bluetooth Basics

Contributors: jimblom
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Wireless Comparison

Bluetooth is far from the only wireless protocol out there. You might be reading this tutorial over a WiFi network. Or maybe you've even played with ZigBees or XBees. So what makes Bluetooth different from the rest of the wireless data transmission protocols out there?

Let's compare and contrast. We'll include BLE as a separate entity from Classic Bluetooth.

NameBluetooth ClassicBluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (BLE)ZigBeeWiFi
IEEE Standard802.15.1802.15.1802.15.4802.11 (a, b, g, n)
Frequency (GHz), 0.915, 2.42.4 and 5
Maximum raw bit rate (Mbps)1-310.25011 (b), 54 (g), 600 (n)
Typical data throughput (Mbps)0.7- (b), 25 (g), 150 (n)
Maximum (Outdoor) Range (Meters)10 (class 2), 100 (class 1)5010-100 100-250
Relative Power ConsumptionMediumVery lowVery lowHigh
Example Battery LifeDaysMonths to yearsMonths to yearsHours
Network Size7Undefined64,000+255

Bluetooth isn't the best choice for every wireless job out there, but it does excel at short-range cable-replacement-type applications. It also boasts a typically more convenient connection process than its competitors (ZigBee specifically).

ZigBee is often a good choice for monitoring networks -- like home automation projects. These networks might have dozens of wireless nodes, which are only sparsely active and never have to send a lot of data.

BLE combines the convenience of classic Bluetooth, and adds significantly lower power consumption. In this way it can compete with Zigbee for battery life. BLE can't compete with ZigBee in terms of network size, but for single device-to-device connectivity it's very comparable.

WiFi is probably the most familiar of these four wireless protocols. We're all pretty familiar with what purpose it's best for: Internet(!). It's fast and flexbile, but also requires a lot of power. For broadband Internet access it blows the other protocols out of the water.