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Bluetooth Basics: Grasping the Nuts and Bolts

written by: Karishma Sundaram•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 7/6/2011

All phones have Bluetooth built into them these days, but there are a number of factors to consider: What is Bluetooth, and how does it work exactly?

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    Bluetooth is a radio technology that uses short-range waves to connect two heterogeneous devices. It can connect wireless headsets, laptops, phones, and, depending on whether or not they have it, household devices as well.

    The beauty of Bluetooth technology is really two-fold: firstly, it eliminated all requirements of cable, thereby making for neater, less cluttered workspace. As an extension to this, cables can limit the range of communication sometimes, and although Bluetooth has an upper limit on its range, it can still sometimes out do cable altogether. The second benefit of implementing Bluetooth is that the technology is entirely free. Since Bluetooth is not connected to the SIM card, the networks cannot monitor or charge connections using the technology. It does make a considerable difference when large amounts of data need to be transferred.

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    Bluetooth Profiles

    Bluetooth profiles were created to provide templates for various kinds of device interfacing. While this sounds complicated, it merely means that one profile is meant for a specific kind of data. For example, the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile, better known as A2DP, has all the information required by the device to transfer high quality audio from one device to another.

    There are a number of profiles, each for a different kind of data. While the technology allows a vast number of devices to be networked, it creates complexity in that a device needs to support a lot of profiles. Otherwise the type of Bluetooth connectivity is limited.

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    Bluetooth on mobiles

    With the introduction of any new technology, there are always pros and cons. Bluetooth, like any other communication technology, has security concerns. Especially with mobiles being a large component of lives, there is a great deal of sensitive information stored on these devices. Most mobiles are now equipped with Bluetooth, so users need to be aware of the security concerns they raise. Bluesnarfing, an activity involving wrongful access to someone else’s data, is covered in a subsequent article in this series.

    On mobiles, it is possible to turn Bluetooth on and off at will. Turning off Bluetooth will effectively rule out any sort of foul play via that media.

    There are a few other options as well; the device usually has an option to turn off visibility of the phone. When the phone’s visibility is turned off, other Bluetooth-enabled devices looking for another device will not be able to detect that phone at all, in spite of the Bluetooth being turned on.

    Subsequently, there is then the concept of paired devices. Working in conjunction with the visibility factor, it is possible to pair two devices using passkeys. Each user enters the same numeric code, when prompted, on their respective devices. Pairing two devices tells the devices that the other is to be trusted, and there is no need to prompt for authentication every time a file is received. Device visibility then makes sense, as paired devices can communicate.

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    Future of Bluetooth

    While Bluetooth has been around for quite some time, there are advancements being made in the technology. The next version, Bluetooth 3.0, has been in the pipeline for a few years now, and should hopefully release soon. The projected vision is to enable higher transmission of data, enabling live streaming of data, like video conferencing.

    Bluetooth does have lots of possibilities, especially for mobile phones, as it is a technology that connects heterogeneous devices easily and efficiently.