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Bluetooth logo

Bluetooth is an industrial specification for wireless personal area networks (PANs). Bluetooth provides a way to connect and exchange information between devices such as mobile phones, laptops, PCs, printers, digital cameras, and video game consoles over a secure, globally unlicensed short-range radio frequency. The Bluetooth specifications are developed and licensed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.


A typical Bluetooth mobile phone headset

Bluetooth is a standard and communications protocol primarily designed for low power consumption, with a short range (power-class-dependent: 1 meter, 10 meters, 100 meters) based on low-cost transceiver microchips in each device.

Bluetooth enables these devices to communicate with each other when they are in range. The devices use a radio communications system, so they do not have to be in line of sight of each other, and can even be in other rooms, as long as the received transmission is powerful enough.

Class Maximum Permitted Power
( mW/ dBm)
Class 1 100 mW (20 dBm) ~100 meters
Class 2 2.5 mW (4 dBm) ~10 meters
Class 3 1 mW (0 dBm) ~1 meter

It has to be noted that in most cases the effective range of class 2 devices is extended if they connect to a class 1 transceiver, compared to pure class 2 network. This is accomplished by higher sensitivity and transmitter power of the Class 1 device. The higher transmitter power of Class 1 device allows higher power to be received by the Class 2 device. Furthermore, higher sensitivity of Class 1 device allows reception of much lower transmitted power of the Class 2 devices. Thus, allowing operation of Class 2 devices at much higher distances. Devices that use a power amplifier on the transmit, have improved receive sensitivity, and highly optimized antennas are available that routinely achieve ranges of 1km within the Bluetooth Class 1 standard.

Version Data Rate
Version 1.2 1 Mbit/s
Version 2.0 + EDR 3 Mbit/s
WiMedia Alliance
53 - 480 Mbit/s

Bluetooth profiles

In order to use Bluetooth, a device must be compatible with certain Bluetooth profiles. These define the possible applications and uses of the technology.

List of applications

More prevalent applications of Bluetooth include:

  • Wireless control of and communication between a mobile phone and a hands-free headset. This was one of the earliest applications to become popular.
  • Wireless networking between PCs in a confined space and where little bandwidth is required.
  • Wireless communications with PC input and output devices, the most common being the mouse, keyboard and printer.
  • Transfer of files between devices with OBEX.
  • Transfer of contact details, calendar appointments, and reminders between devices with OBEX.
  • Replacement of traditional wired serial communications in test equipment, GPS receivers, medical equipment, bar code scanners, and traffic control devices.
  • For controls where infrared was traditionally used.
  • Sending small advertisements from Bluetooth enabled advertising hoardings to other, discoverable, Bluetooth devices.
  • Two seventh-generation game consoles—Nintendo's Wii and Sony's PlayStation 3—use Bluetooth for their respective wireless controllers.
  • Dial-up internet access on personal computer or PDA using a data-capable mobile phone as a modem.
  • Receiving commercial advertisements (" spam") via a kiosk, e.g. at a movie theatre or lobby

Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi in networking

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have slightly different applications in today's offices, homes, and on the move: setting up networks, printing, or transferring presentations and files from PDAs to computers. Both are versions of unlicensed spread spectrum technology.

Bluetooth differs from Wi-Fi in that the latter provides higher throughput and covers greater distances, but requires more expensive hardware and higher power consumption. They use the same frequency range, but employ different multiplexing schemes. While Bluetooth is a cable replacement for a variety of applications, Wi-Fi is a cable replacement only for local area network access. Bluetooth is often thought of as wireless USB, whereas Wi-Fi is wireless Ethernet, both operating at much lower bandwidth than the cable systems they are trying to replace. However, this analogy is not entirely accurate since any Bluetooth device can, in theory, host any other Bluetooth device—something that is not universal to USB devices, therefore it would resemble more a wireless FireWire.


Bluetooth module from EZURiO with 300m range. .

Bluetooth exists in many products, such as phones, printers, modems and headsets. The technology is useful when transferring information between two or more devices that are near each other in low-bandwidth situations. Bluetooth is commonly used to transfer sound data with phones (i.e. with a Bluetooth headset) or byte data with hand-held computers (transferring files).

Bluetooth simplifies the discovery and setup of services between devices. Bluetooth devices advertise all of the services they provide. This makes using services easier because there is no longer a need to setup network addresses or permissions as in many other networks.


Wi-Fi is more like traditional Ethernet networks, and requires configuration to set up shared resources, transmit files, and to set up audio links (for example, headsets and hands-free devices). It uses the same radio frequencies as Bluetooth, but with higher power output resulting in a stronger connection. Wi-Fi is sometimes called "wireless Ethernet." This description is accurate as it also provides an indication of its relative strengths and weaknesses. Wi-Fi requires more setup, but is better suited for operating full-scale networks because it enables a faster connection, better range from the base station, and better security than Bluetooth.

Computer requirements

A typical Bluetooth USB dongle, shown here next to a metric ruler
An internal notebook Bluetooth card (14×36×4 mm)

A personal computer must have a Bluetooth adapter in order to be able to communicate with other Bluetooth devices (such as mobile phones, mice and keyboards). While some desktop computers already contain an internal Bluetooth adapter, most require an external Bluetooth dongle. Most recent laptops come with a built-in Bluetooth adapter.

Unlike its predecessor, IrDA, which requires a separate adapter for each device, Bluetooth allows multiple devices to communicate with a computer over a single adapter.

Operating system support

Apple has supported Bluetooth since Mac OS X version 10.2 released in 2002.

Of Microsoft platforms, Windows XP Service Pack 2 and later releases have native support for Bluetooth. Previous versions required the users to install their Bluetooth adapter's own drivers, which was not directly supported by Microsoft. Microsoft's own Bluetooth dongles (that are packaged with their Bluetooth computer devices) have no external drivers and thus require at least Windows XP Service Pack 2.

Linux provides two Bluetooth stacks, with the BlueZ stack included with most Linux kernels. It was originally developed by Qualcomm and Affix. BlueZ supports all core Bluetooth protocols and layers.

NetBSD features bluetooth support since its 4.0 release . Its bluetooth stack has been ported to FreeBSD and OpenBSD as well.

Specifications and features

The Bluetooth specification was developed in 1994 by Jaap Haartsen and Sven Mattisson, who were working for Ericsson Mobile Platforms in Lund, Sweden. The specification is based on frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology.

The specifications were formalized by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group ( SIG), organised by Mohd Syarifuddin. The SIG was formally announced on May 20, 1998. Today it has over 7000 companies worldwide. It was established by Ericsson, Sony Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Toshiba, and Nokia, and later joined by many other companies.

Bluetooth 1.0 and 1.0B

Versions 1.0 and 1.0B had many problems, and manufacturers had difficulties making their products interoperable. Versions 1.0 and 1.0B also had mandatory Bluetooth hardware device address (BD_ADDR) transmission in the Connecting process, rendering anonymity impossible at a protocol level, which was a major setback for certain services planned to be used in Bluetooth environments.

Bluetooth 1.1

  • Ratified as IEEE Standard 802.15.1-2002.
  • Many errors found in the 1.0B specifications were fixed.
  • Added support for non-encrypted channels.
  • Received Signal Strength Indicator ( RSSI).

Bluetooth 1.2

This version is backward-compatible with 1.1 and the major enhancements include the following:

  • Faster Connection and Discovery
  • Adaptive frequency-hopping spread spectrum (AFH), which improves resistance to radio frequency interference by avoiding the use of crowded frequencies in the hopping sequence.
  • Higher transmission speeds in practice, up to 721 kbit/s, as in 1.1.
  • Extended Synchronous Connections (eSCO), which improve voice quality of audio links by allowing retransmissions of corrupted packets.
  • Host Controller Interface (HCI) support for three-wire UART.
  • Ratified as IEEE Standard 802.15.1-2005.

Bluetooth 2.0

This version, specified on 10th November 2004, is backward-compatible with 1.1. The main enhancement is the introduction of an Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) of 3.0 Mbit/s. This has the following effects:

  • Three times faster transmission speed—up to 10 times in certain cases (up to 2.1 Mbit/s).
  • Lower power consumption through a reduced duty cycle.
  • Simplification of multi-link scenarios due to more available bandwidth.

The practical data transfer rate is 2.1 megabits per second and the basic signalling rate is about 3 megabits per second.

The "Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR" specification given at the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) includes EDR and there is no specification "Bluetooth 2.0" as used by many vendors. The HTC TyTN pocket PC phone, shows "Bluetooth 2.0 without EDR" on its data sheet and another source states Bluetooth 2.0 without EDR is equivalent to version 1.2 with additional bug fixes. In many cases it is not clear whether a product claiming to support "Bluetooth 2.0" actually supports the EDR higher transfer rate.

Bluetooth 2.1

Bluetooth Core Specification Version 2.1 is fully backward-compatible with 1.1, and was adopted by the Bluetooth SIG on August 1, 2007. This specification includes the following features:

  • Extended inquiry response: provides more information during the inquiry procedure to allow better filtering of devices before connection. This information includes the name of the device, a list of services the device supports, as well as other information like the time of day, and pairing information.
  • Sniff subrating: reduces the power consumption when devices are in the sniff low-power mode, especially on links with asymmetric data flows. Human interface devices (HID) are expected to benefit the most, with mouse and keyboard devices increasing the battery life by a factor of 3 to 10.
  • Encryption Pause Resume: enables an encryption key to be refreshed, enabling much stronger encryption for connections that stay up for longer than 23.3 hours (one Bluetooth day).
  • Secure Simple Pairing: radically improves the pairing experience for Bluetooth devices, while increasing the use and strength of security. It is expected that this feature will significantly increase the use of Bluetooth.
  • NFC cooperation: automatic creation of secure Bluetooth connections when NFC radio interface is also available. For example, a headset should be paired with a Bluetooth 2.1 phone including NFC just by bringing the two devices close to each other (a few centimeters). Another example is automatic uploading of photos from a mobile phone or camera to a digital picture frame just by bringing the phone or camera close to the frame .

Future of Bluetooth

  • Broadcast Channel: enables Bluetooth information points. This will drive the adoption of Bluetooth into cell phones, and enable advertising models based around users pulling information from the information points, and not based around the object push model that is used in a limited way today.
  • Topology Management: enables the automatic configuration of the piconet topologies especially in scatternet situations that are becoming more common today. This should all be invisible to the users of the technology, while also making the technology just work.
  • Alternate MAC PHY: enables the use of alternative MAC and PHY's for transporting Bluetooth profile data. The Bluetooth Radio will still be used for device discovery, initial connection and profile configuration, however when lots of data needs to be sent, the high speed alternate MAC PHY's will be used to transport the data. This means that the proven low power connection models of Bluetooth are used when the system is idle, and the low power per bit radios are used when lots of data needs to be sent.
  • QoS improvements: enable audio and video data to be transmitted at a higher quality, especially when best effort traffic is being transmitted in the same piconet.

Bluetooth technology already plays a part in the rising Voice over IP (VOIP) scene, with Bluetooth headsets being used as wireless extensions to the PC audio system. As VOIP becomes more popular, and more suitable for general home or office users than wired phone lines, Bluetooth may be used in cordless handsets, with a base station connected to the Internet link.

High-speed Bluetooth

On 28 March 2006, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced its selection of the WiMedia Alliance Multi-Band Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (MB-OFDM) version of UWB for integration with current Bluetooth wireless technology.

UWB integration will create a version of Bluetooth wireless technology with a high-speed/high-data-rate option. This new version of Bluetooth technology will meet the high-speed demands of synchronizing and transferring large amounts of data, as well as enabling high-quality video and audio applications for portable devices, multi-media projectors and television sets, and wireless VOIP.

At the same time, Bluetooth technology will continue catering to the needs of very low power applications such as mice, keyboards, and mono headsets, enabling devices to select the most appropriate physical radio for the application requirements, thereby offering the best of both worlds.

Bluetooth 3.0

The next version of Bluetooth after v2.1, code-named Seattle (the version number of which is TBD) has many of the same features, but is most notable for plans to adopt ultra-wideband (UWB) radio technology. This will allow Bluetooth use over UWB radio, enabling very fast data transfers of up to 480 Mbit/s, while building on the very low-power idle modes of Bluetooth.

Ultra Low Power Bluetooth

On June 12, 2007, Nokia and Bluetooth SIG announced that Wibree will be a part of the Bluetooth specification as an ultra low power Bluetooth technology. Expected use cases include watches displaying Caller ID information, sports sensors monitoring your heart rate during exercise, as well as medical devices. The Medical Devices Working Group is also creating a medical devices profile and associated protocols to enable this market.

Technical information

Communication and connection

A master Bluetooth device can communicate with up to seven devices. This network group of up to eight devices is called a piconet.

A piconet is an ad-hoc computer network, using Bluetooth technology protocols to allow one master device to interconnect with up to seven active devices. Up to 255 further devices can be inactive, or parked, which the master device can bring into active status at any time.

At any given time, data can be transferred between the master and one other device, however, the devices can switch roles and the slave can become the master at any time. The master switches rapidly from one device to another in a round-robin fashion. (Simultaneous transmission from the master to multiple other devices is possible, but not used much.)

Bluetooth specification allows connecting two or more piconets together to form a scatternet, with some devices acting as a bridge by simultaneously playing the master role and the slave role in one piconet. These devices are planned for 2007.

Many USB Bluetooth adapters are available, some of which also include an IrDA adapter. Older (pre-2003) Bluetooth adapters, however, have limited services, offering only the Bluetooth Enumerator and a less-powerful Bluetooth Radio incarnation. Such devices can link computers with Bluetooth, but they do not offer much in the way of services that modern adapters do.

Setting up connections

Any Bluetooth device will transmit the following sets of information on demand:

  • Device name.
  • Device class.
  • List of services.
  • Technical information, for example, device features, manufacturer, Bluetooth specification, clock offset.

Any device may perform an inquiry to find other devices to which to connect, and any device can be configured to respond to such inquiries. However, if the device trying to connect knows the address of the device, it always responds to direct connection requests and transmits the information shown in the list above if requested. Use of device services may require pairing or acceptance by its owner, but the connection itself can be started by any device and held until it goes out of range. Some devices can be connected to only one device at a time, and connecting to them prevents them from connecting to other devices and appearing in inquiries until they disconnect from the other device.

Every device has a unique 48-bit address. However these addresses are generally not shown in inquiries. Instead, friendly Bluetooth names are used, which can be set by the user. This name appears when another user scans for devices and in lists of paired devices.

Most phones have the Bluetooth name set to the manufacturer and model of the phone by default. Most phones and laptops show only the Bluetooth names and special programs that are required to get additional information about remote devices. This can be confusing as, for example, there could be several phones in range named T610 (see Bluejacking).


Pairs of devices may establish a trusted relationship by learning (by user input) a shared secret known as a passkey. A device that wants to communicate only with a trusted device can cryptographically authenticate the identity of the other device. Trusted devices may also encrypt the data that they exchange over the air so that no one can listen in. The encryption can, however, be turned off, and passkeys are stored on the device file system, not on the Bluetooth chip itself. Since the Bluetooth address is permanent, a pairing is preserved, even if the Bluetooth name is changed. Pairs can be deleted at any time by either device. Devices generally require pairing or prompt the owner before they allow a remote device to use any or most of their services. Some devices, such as Sony Ericsson phones, usually accept OBEX business cards and notes without any pairing or prompts.

Certain printers and access points allow any device to use its services by default, much like unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Pairing algorithms are sometimes manufacturer-specific for transmitters and receivers used in applications such as music and entertainment.

Air interface

The protocol operates in the license-free ISM band at 2.4-2.4835  GHz. To avoid interfering with other protocols that use the 2.45 GHz band, the Bluetooth protocol divides the band into 79 channels (each 1 MHz wide) and changes channels up to 1600 times per second. Implementations with versions 1.1 and 1.2 reach speeds of 723.1  kbit/s. Version 2.0 implementations feature Bluetooth Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) and reach 2.1  Mbit/s. Technically, version 2.0 devices have a higher power consumption, but the three times faster rate reduces the transmission times, effectively reducing power consumption to half that of 1.x devices (assuming equal traffic load).


Bluetooth implements confidentiality, authentication and key derivation with custom algorithms based on the SAFER+ block cipher. In Bluetooth, key generation is generally based on a Bluetooth PIN, which has to be entered into both devices. This procedure might get modified slightly, if one of the devices has a fixed PIN, which is the case e.g. for headsets or similar devices with a restricted user interface. Foremost, an initialization key or master key is generated, using the E22 algorithm .

The E0 stream cipher is used for encrypting packets, granting confidentiality and is based on a shared cryptographic secret, namely a previously generated link key or master key. Those keys, used for subsequent encryption of data sent via the air interface, hardly rely on the Bluetooth PIN, which has been entered into one or both devices.

A demonstration of this reduction has been put effort in by Y. Shaked and A. Wool in . An overview of the most important vulnerabilities and the most common exploits to those vulnerabilities is presented in .

Social concerns

Security concerns

In November 2003, Ben and Adam Laurie from A.L. Digital Ltd. discovered that serious flaws in Bluetooth security may lead to disclosure of personal data. It should be noted, however, that the reported security problems concerned some poor implementations of Bluetooth, rather than the protocol itself.

In a subsequent experiment, Martin Herfurt from the was able to do a field-trial at the CeBIT fairgrounds, showing the importance of the problem to the world. A new attack called BlueBug was used for this experiment.

This is one of a number of concerns that have been raised over the security of Bluetooth communications. In 2004 the first purported virus using Bluetooth to spread itself among mobile phones appeared on the Symbian OS. The virus was first described by Kaspersky Lab and requires users to confirm the installation of unknown software before it can propagate.

The virus was written as a proof-of-concept by a group of virus writers known as 29A and sent to anti-virus groups. Thus, it should be regarded as a potential (but not real) security threat to Bluetooth or Symbian OS since the virus has never spread in the wild.

In August 2004, a world-record-setting experiment (see also Bluetooth sniping) showed that the range of Class 2 Bluetooth radios could be extended to 1.78 km (1.08 mile) with directional antennas and signal amplifiers. This poses a potential security threat because it enables attackers to access vulnerable Bluetooth-devices from a distance beyond expectation. The attacker must also be able to receive information from the victim to set up a connection. No attack can be made against a Bluetooth device unless the attacker knows its Bluetooth address and which channels to transmit on.

In April 2005, Cambridge University security researchers published results of their actual implementation of passive attacks against the PIN-based pairing between commercial Bluetooth devices, confirming the attacks to be practicably fast and the Bluetooth symmetric key establishment method to be vulnerable. To rectify this vulnerability, they carried out an implementation which showed that stronger, asymmetric key establishment is feasible for certain classes of devices, such as handphones.

In June 2005, Yaniv Shaked and Avishai Wool published the paper "Cracking the Bluetooth PIN1," which shows both passive and active methods for obtaining the PIN for a Bluetooth link. The passive attack allows a suitably equipped attacker to eavesdrop on communications and spoof if they were present at the time of initial pairing. The active method makes use of a specially constructed message that must be inserted at a specific point in the protocol, to make the master and slave repeat the pairing process. After that, the first method can be used to crack the PIN. This attack's major weakness is that it requires the user of the devices under attack to re-enter the PIN during the attack when the device prompts them to. Also, this active attack probably requires custom hardware, since most commercially available Bluetooth devices are not capable of the timing necessary.

In August 2005, police in Cambridgeshire, England, issued warnings about thieves using Bluetooth-enabled phones to track other devices left in cars. Police are advising users to ensure that any mobile networking connections are de-activated if laptops and other devices are left in this way.

In April 2006, researchers from Secure Network and F-Secure published a report that warns of the large number of devices left in a visible state, and issued statistics on the spread of various Bluetooth services and the ease of spread of an eventual Bluetooth worm.

In October 2006, at the Luxemburgish Security Conference, Kevin Finistere and Thierry Zoller demonstrated and released a remote root shell over Bluetooth on Mac OSX 10.3.9 and 10.4. They also demonstrated the first Bluetooth PIN and Linkkeys cracker, which is based on the research of Wool and Shaked.

Bluejacking allows phone users to send business cards anonymously using Bluetooth wireless technology. Bluejacking does NOT involve the removal or alteration of any data from the device. These business cards often have a clever or flirtatious message rather than the typical name and phone number. Bluejackers often look for the receiving phone to ping or the user to react. They then send another, more personal message to that device. Once again, in order to carry out a bluejacking, the sending and receiving devices must be within range of each other, which is typically 10 meters for most mobile devices. Phone owners who receive bluejack messages should refuse to add the contacts to their address book. Devices that are set in non-discoverable mode are not susceptible to bluejacking. However, the use of the Linux application Redfang, allows this to be bypassed.

Health concerns

Bluetooth uses the microwave radio frequency spectrum in the 2.4 GHz to 2.4835 GHz range. Maximum power output from a Bluetooth radio is 1 mW, 2.5 mW, and 100 mW for Class 3, Class 2, and Class 1 devices respectively, which puts Class 1 at roughly the same level as cell phones, and the other two classes much lower. Accordingly, Class 2 and Class 3 Bluetooth devices are considered less of a potential hazard than cell phones, and Class 1 may be comparable to that of cell phones.

Bluetooth was named after a late tenth century king, Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark and Norway. He is known for his unification of previously warring tribes from Denmark (including now Swedish Scania, where the Bluetooth technology was invented), and Norway. Bluetooth likewise was intended to unify different technologies, such as computers and mobile phones.

The name may have been inspired less by the historical Harald than the loose interpretation of him in The Long Ships by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson, a Swedish Viking-inspired novel.

The Bluetooth logo merges the Germanic runes analogous to the modern Latin letter H and B:  H-rune.gif ( Hagall) and Runic letter berkanan.png ( Berkanan) merged together, forming a bind rune.

Bluetooth Special Interest Group

In 1998, Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Toshiba, and Nokia, formed a consortium and adopted the code name Bluetooth for their proposed open specification. In December 1999, 3Com, Lucent Technologies, Microsoft, and Motorola joined the initial founders as the promoter of Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG). Since that time, Lucent Technologies transferred their membership to their spinoff Agere Systems, and 3Com has left the promoter group. Agere Systems was later merged with LSI Corporation and left the Bluetooth promoters group in August 2007.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) is a privately held, not-for-profit trade association with headquarters in Bellevue, Washington. As of September 2007 the SIG is composed of over 9,000 member companies that are leaders in the telecommunications, computing, automotive, music, apparel, industrial automation, and network industries, and a small group of dedicated staff in Hong Kong, Sweden, and the USA. SIG members drive the development of Bluetooth wireless technology, and implement and market the technology in their products varying from mobile phones to printers. The Bluetooth SIG itself does not make, manufacture, or sell Bluetooth enabled products.

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