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Bluetooth Vs. Bluetooth Low Energy: What's The Difference? [2021 Update]

Although the first mobile phone with Bluetooth capacity appeared in the market in 2000, the technology did not pick-up momentum until 2004 with the introduction of EDR (Enhanced Data Rate). Since then, Bluetooth has gone through many revisions and enhancements. One of the most influential revisions that hit the market in 2011 is called Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth Low Energy (LE). How do these wireless network technologies fit into the IoT and Machine to Machine (M2M) world? Let’s take a look a deeper look.

What is Bluetooth?

Before we can understand the difference between the two technologies, we must first understand how they work. When most people think of Bluetooth, they picture a wireless headphone or some other device connecting you to the data you’re broadcasting. Although similar, Bluetooth is actually the wireless connection that lies between your phone and the device you’re connected to. With this technology, data exchanges over a short-range without the need for wires.

In engineering speak, Bluetooth is a frequency-hopping radio technology that transmits data packets within the 2.4 GHz band. These packets exchange through one of 79 designated Bluetooth channels (each of which is 1 MHz in bandwidth).

Bluetooth M2M and IoT Applications

When considering the difference between Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy, it’s important to talk about power consumption. Bluetooth was originally designed for continuously streaming data applications. That means that you can exchange a lot of data at a close range. That’s why Bluetooth is a good fit for consumer products. People like to receive data and talk at the same time, and quickly exchange videos from one device from another. Here are some M2M and Internet of Things (IoT) uses for Bluetooth:

  • Wireless headsets
  • File transfers between devices
  • Wireless keyboards and printers
  • Hands-free calling in the car
  • Wireless headsets
  • Wireless speakers

Bluetooth devices continue to be invented and re-created. Remember when Apple first introduce AirPods?  Now there are several variations of this Bluetooth connectivity device, including advancements that help with strain on battery life, which brings us to Bluetooth Low Energy.

What Is Bluetooth Low Energy (LE)?

As previously mentioned, Bluetooth Low Energy or Bluetooth 4.0 hit the market in 2011. When talking about Bluetooth Low Energy vs. Bluetooth, the key difference is with Bluetooth LE’s low energy consumption capability. With low-energy consumption, applications can run on a small battery for a longer amount of time. Although this is not ideal for talking on the phone, it is vital for applications that periodically exchange small amounts of data.

SEE ALSO:Why Use BLE For Asset Tracking?

Bluetooth Low Energy M2M and IoT Applications

Similar to Bluetooth, Bluetooth LE operates in the 2.4 GHz band. The hidden difference is that Bluetooth Low Energy remains in sleep mode unless a connection initiates. The actual connection times only last a few milliseconds, unlike Bluetooth, which connects for a few seconds or a few hours at a time. These short connections are necessary because data rates are significantly higher (1 Mb per second). Here are some common examples of devices that use Bluetooth LE:

  • Blood pressure monitoring
  • Fitbit devices
  • Industrial monitoring sensors
  • Geography-based, targeted promotions 
  • Public transportation apps
  • Other various IoT applications

Bluetooth solutions can be applied to both consumer and commercial use cases.  Most consumers access Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy daily without even realizing it – and commercial industries are also beginning to do the same.

Bluetooth 5.0 and the Industrial Revolution

Since 2011, Bluetooth has continued to make revisions and enhancements. A significant change occurred in 2016 when Bluetooth 5.0 significantly increased range, speed, and data capacity. In 2020 the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) introduced Bluetooth Low Energy Audio. This technology allows one device to share audio with multiple other devices.  For example, one smartphone can share audio with several headphones simultaneously. Although this use case caters to the consumer market, it is another example of how this wireless communication technology continues to grow. It won’t be long before applications for Bluetooth 6.0 become a reality.

Bluetooth vs. Bluetooth Low Energy – The IoT Difference

In summary, Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy are similar in that the help users connect to their most favorited and important devices for both consumer and commercial use. The difference lies in how they distribute data for energy savings.

Bluetooth can handle a lot of data but quickly consumes battery life and costs a lot more. Bluetooth Low Energy is used for applications that do not need to exchange large amounts of data and can run on battery power for years at a cheaper cost. 

If you’re still comparing varying technologies for an asset tracking platform, reach out to a Link Labs’ representative for more info.  Link Labs has been pioneering Bluetooth solutions to bring you the most energy efficient and affordable solution on the market, such as our latest offering: Xtreme Low Energy (XLE).  Book a demo today!

Written by Brian Ray

Brian is the Founder and CTO of Link Labs. As the chief technical innovator and leader of the company, Brian has led the creation and deployment of a new type of ultra long-range, low-power wireless networking which is transforming the Internet of Things and M2M space.

Before starting Link Labs, Brian led a team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab that solved communications and geolocation problems for the national intelligence community. He was also the VP of Engineering at the network security company, Lookingglass, and served for eight years as a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and received his Master’s Degree from Oxford University.


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