From wireless headphones to smart speakers, almost all of your favorite audio devices today come with Bluetooth technology. This ensures that you don't have to connect your devices to a power plug or keep them shackled to a specific area in your house. Unfortunately, while Bluetooth is a great technology overall, it's not always as reliable as you'd like. That's why it's important to learn how to extend the Bluetooth range.
In this guide, we'll explain how:
To understand how Bluetooth range works, it's important to learn first how Bluetooth works. Bluetooth uses radio waves to transmit data between electronic devices over a short distance. Unlike a mobile phone, which utilizes radio waves to communicate with cell towers several miles away, the radio waves Bluetooth uses are a thousand times weaker and only travel short distances between the two communicating devices.
When Bluetooth-enabled devices are close to each other, they can connect together via a small computer chip inside them that produces the special Bluetooth radio waves. However, you must turn on this chip first, which you can do by flipping a marked switch or pressing a specific button. Then, the communication between the two Bluetooth devices occurs over a short-range network known as piconet (pico means tiny in the metric system).
Piconet is basically a network of Bluetooth-connected devices. If you connect your laptop to a Bluetooth-enabled mouse, speaker, monitor, or keyboard, for example, all these devices will create their own Bluetooth piconet. However, they won't be communicating with each other individually. One device—in this case, your laptop—will be the main device with which all others are connected.
Piconets are automatically established, so once you have a device, such as your mouse, installed and in the range of the piconet, it automatically connects. However, if it's not in range, the mouse automatically leaves the piconet.
The range of Bluetooth connection depends on its class. You can connect two Bluetooth devices with different classes without issue, but they will default to the lowest class and its range capabilities. Here are the different classifications of Bluetooth:
As the technology has developed over the years, there have been a number of new versions of Bluetooth. They all work in the same way and are developed on the same foundations. However, with each evolution from the old to new versions, there have been marked range, speed, and use-case improvements. Here are key differences between Bluetooth versions:
Bluetooth Classic was originally designed to transmit a large amount of data at a close range in continuous, streaming data applications. Devices with Bluetooth Classic can both receive and send data at the same time. This is ideal for many consumer products, such as wireless speakers and headphones, where two devices are close together.
When Bluetooth low energy, also called Bluetooth Smart, was released in the market over a decade ago, the key advantage over older versions was lower power usage over the same range, but with lower bandwidth. It's designed for devices that only need to transmit a small amount of data periodically, extending the life of the battery for a long period of time.
Wireless is an umbrella terminology that covers all communications that use electromagnetic waves. This includes GPS, satellites, radios, and a lot of others. However, when most people say wireless, they're often referring to wireless networking technology, which is better known as Wi-Fi. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi each have their own uses.
While Wi-Fi is used to connect a computer or smartphone to a network, Bluetooth is typically used to connect devices together to facilitate the transfer of data. It could be a laptop streaming music to a stereo Bluetooth headset or a phone sending a file to another device.
There's a key difference between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when it comes to range and speed. Bluetooth is designed for exchanging data between two devices only, so its range doesn't exceed a few meters (except for Class 1 devices). The range was intentionally reduced to lessen security issues. With Wi-Fi, however, a greater range is better, as it allows for greater mobility to users connected to the router.
Also, speed is crucial for wireless networking as it means faster transmission of files and more users can connect at once. Bluetooth doesn't really need that much bandwidth, as the amount of data that is typically being transferred is very low.
Several key factors affect the effective range of a reliable Bluetooth connection. These factors include the following:
Obstacles in your surroundings can reduce Bluetooth range. If you are indoors, for example, walls and furniture can reduce the Bluetooth signal. If you are outdoors, without obstacles, you can get a greater Bluetooth range.
Think of transmit power as the volume of your voice. The louder your voice when speaking, the farther away a person can hear you, but the more energy it may take.
Selecting a transmit power level is a design tradeoff between power consumption and range. The higher the transmit power, the better the signal is at longer distances, and the longer the effective range. Increasing the transmit power, however, increases the power consumption of your device.
Bluetooth can support transmit powers from -20 decibels per milliwatt (0.01 megawatt) to +20 decibels per milliwatt (100 megawatts).
Radio spectrum stretches from 30 Hertz to 300 Hertz. The lower the frequency, the longer the range. The lower the frequency, however, the lower the data rate it can support. Hence, when choosing a radio spectrum, it always comes with tradeoffs between data rate and range.
Bluetooth uses the 2.4 GigaHertz ISM spectrum band (from 2400 to 2483.5 MegaHertz), which enables a good balance between throughput and range. Also, the 2.4 GigaHertz band is available worldwide, which makes it a true standard for low-power wireless connectivity.
Antenna efficiency also has a big impact on Bluetooth range. The reason is that its ability to focus the direction of energy should seamlessly fit with design style, packaging size, and location. Thus, you don't have to go in for any antenna. You should be concerned about its design if you want to have a stronger Bluetooth signal that could go through walls.
Here are a few ways to extend Bluetooth range:
Perhaps the best way to extend your device's Bluetooth range is to increase its transmit power. However, this will have a significant impact on its battery life. Keep in mind that increasing the transmit power increases your device's power consumption.
Spatial constraints impede communication when your devices are part of a larger, widely distributed network. The latest versions of Bluetooth have ranges from about 250 feet to 800 feet. Hence, updating your device seems to be the most effective solution.
Bluetooth ranges can also be extended by using signal repeaters. A Bluetooth repeater is designed to increase the signal of any Bluetooth device. You can connect several devices with a Bluetooth signal repeater, and even use a variety of Bluetooth range extenders to increase your access all around your house.
In today's connected world, learning how to expand Bluetooth range is more important than ever. The further your Bluetooth range, the better your experience will be with wireless devices such as Bluetooth speakers and headphones.
At Ovyl we’re proud to partner with the best manufacturers and service providers in the IoT industry. We’re the only full-stack product firm invited to join the Nordic Design Partner program due to our experience developing a variety of bluetooth and cellular devices. You can check out our blog on our Nordic Design Partnership to learn more about the selection and our process.
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