Simple questions: What is Bluetooth? How do you get it on your PC?

Many people visiting our website are interested in tutorials about using the Bluetooth technology. If you want to know what Bluetooth is, the different versions of implementations that exist, how Bluetooth came to life, and how to get Bluetooth on a computer with Windows, read this article. We promise that it will prove to be an exciting and useful read.

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a wireless radio communication standard designed for communication over short distances, between different types of devices. The Bluetooth technology uses the same 2.4 GHz operating frequency as the 802.11b and 802.11g wireless standards do, but runs using a lot less power. This translates into a much shorter range, slower transfer rates, and lower power usage.

What types of Bluetooth are there?

There are three main types of Bluetooth radios: from Class 1 to Class 3:

  1. Class 1 is used in industrial environments, and it provides a range of up to 100 meters (328 feet), but it uses quite a bit of power - 100 mW.
  2. Class 2 is the most used, especially in mobile devices, as it uses only 2.5 mW of power and provides a range of up to 10 meters (33 feet).
  3. Class 3 uses 1mW of power and provides a range of only 1 meter (3.3 feet).

In what devices is Bluetooth used?

The Bluetooth technology is used in many devices, and some of the devices that have Bluetooth radio chips are not what we would think of as Bluetooth capable.

Among many other types of devices, you can find Bluetooth in:

  • Smartphones - The most common use for Bluetooth is to allow smartphones to communicate with each other, as well as with computers and other devices such as headsets or portable speakers.
  • Gaming consoles - Bluetooth can also be found on gaming consoles. For example, the controllers for the Nintendo Wii and the Sony PlayStation 4 are linked to their respective consoles through Bluetooth.
  • Laptops and tablets - Many tablets and notebooks also have Bluetooth radio chips. You can use them to connect mobile keyboards, mice, wireless headphones, and so on.
  • Other devices - Bluetooth can also be used by wireless home entertainment systems, audio car systems, personal health devices such as heart rate monitors or Nike+ training shoes, and the list goes on.

What versions of Bluetooth standards are there?

Bluetooth specifications and features change over time and get new powers and features, adjusting to the modern requirements. However, Bluetooth versions are formalized into standards created by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), an alliance made of over 30,000 companies all around the world (we will say more about this later in this article). At the moment, there are five main Bluetooth versions:

  1. Bluetooth 1 - initially had many issues, but the later iterations, Bluetooth 1.1 and Bluetooth 1.2 fixed many of them. The fastest data transmission speed you could achieve using it was 721 kbit/s.
  2. Bluetooth 2 - was released in 2004 and was capable of data transmissions of up to 2.1 Mbit/s. On 26 July 2007, also appeared Bluetooth 2.1, which had better security and also offered a better pairing experience.
  3. Bluetooth 3 - was launched on 21 April 2009 and promised theoretical data transfer speeds of up to 24 Mbit/s. Bluetooth 3 is still found in some of today's cheap smartphones and Bluetooth devices.
  4. Bluetooth 4 - the most common Bluetooth standard used in today's devices is Bluetooth 4.0. It is an improvement over Bluetooth 3.0, providing lower power consumption while keeping the same transfer speed. It was adopted on 30 June 2010, and most devices on the market today are using this version, or one of its following updates: Bluetooth 4.1 or Bluetooth 4.2. Bluetooth 4.1 came out on 4 December 2013, and it added coexistence support for 4G LTE, which meant that Bluetooth transmissions no longer interfered with other wireless technologies. Bluetooth 4.2 was released on 2 December 2014 and came with new features designed mainly for the Internet of Things, such as improved security and internet connectivity (smart sensors or devices that use Bluetooth 4.2 can send and receive data over the internet).
  5. Bluetooth 5 - the latest Bluetooth standard to date. Bluetooth 5 was released on 16 June 2016 and, just like Bluetooth 4.2, it focuses mainly on adding new features designed for the Internet of Things, but also make the Bluetooth connections use less energy, improved speed, and extended range. Devices with Bluetooth 5 can transfer data at up to 2 Mbps in bursts, and over distances of up to 800 feet (240 meters). Some of the devices that include Bluetooth 5 and which you can buy right now are the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, Samsung Galaxy A8 Plus 2018, iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, Oneplus 5T, Google Pixel 2 and Google Pixel 2 XL, Xiaomi Mi Mix 2, Nokia 8, and Motorola Moto X4.

How Bluetooth came to life (a concise history)

Bluetooth was invented by the Swedish company Ericsson, in 1994. Since 1998, the standard has been managed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) - a body that oversees the development of Bluetooth standards and the licensing of the Bluetooth technologies and trademarks to manufacturers.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) organization is focused on developing the standard, designing new versions, improving specifications and protecting the Bluetooth trademarks. The Bluetooth SIG does not manufacture or sell Bluetooth enabled products. This is handled by the companies that are part of a group.

If a company is interested in licensing Bluetooth technologies, it must become a member of the Bluetooth SIG. This also involves going through a rigid certification process.

"Bluetooth" was the codename of the SIG organization when it was first formed. It is inspired from the 10th century Danish King Harald Bl├ątand - or Harold Bluetooth in English. He was the first king who united warring factions in parts of what is now Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. If you would like to learn more about him and his deeds, you should check his Wikipedia entry: Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson.

How to get Bluetooth on your Windows computer

Bluetooth is included in almost every smartphone and tablet. It is also found on some laptops. However, on desktop computers, Bluetooth chips are not as commonly found. That is why the only way to get Bluetooth on your desktop computer is to purchase a small Bluetooth USB adapter. Such adapters can be found in almost any tech shop, including Amazon.

When purchasing a Bluetooth USB dongle, pay attention to the Bluetooth version it supports. You should get one that works with at least 4. The cheaper USB adapters provide support only for Bluetooth version 3 or even 2.1 and not the newer versions. The more expensive adapters tend to provide support for the latest versions.

Here are a couple of recommendations to get you started in your search for Bluetooth USB adapters: Kinivo BTD-400 Bluetooth 4.0 USB adapter and ASUS USB Adapter with Bluetooth (USB-BT400).

Installing such devices is generally a plug-and-play experience. Windows detects the Bluetooth USB adapter and installs its drivers automatically. Then you can start using the device.

If that does not happen, you need to look for the installation disc packaged with the device or search for drivers on the manufacturer's website.

When Bluetooth is installed and working on your computer, you can see its blue icon in the notification area on your taskbar.

If it is not there, the installation was not performed correctly, or you do not have a Bluetooth device.

Do you want to learn more about Bluetooth (further reading)?

We do have several tutorials on our website to help you learn more about Bluetooth and how to use this technology to transfer data between devices. You can get directly to them, using these links:

However, if you want to learn more about Bluetooth in general, its detailed specifications and uses, we recommend the website created by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG): Bluetooth Technology Website. There, you can find lots of useful information.

How do you use Bluetooth?

Before closing this tutorial, we are curious to know how you are using Bluetooth on your computers and devices. Do you connect Bluetooth devices like portable speakers or headsets, to your laptop or smartphone? Comment below and let's talk about Bluetooth and how you use this technology.