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What’s the Difference Between Bluetooth Versions 2.x, 3.x, 4.x and 5.x

With the rising popularity of wearable devices, low-power sensors used to gather data by retailers and manufacturers, and, most importantly, mobile devices, the wireless technology standard called Bluetooth pops up in almost every tech-related news article. To make things more complicated, there are various Bluetooth versions being in use, each with a slightly different set of features. In this article, we would like to take you on a short history tour and even show you what the future holds for Bluetooth and mobile devices in general.

Bluetooth Devices For Your Smartphone

There are several bluetooth devices that you may already use, such as:

Why Bluetooth Matters

For a surprisingly large number of smartphone and tablet users, Bluetooth is nothing more than the annoying logo displayed in the status bar and associated with an increase in battery consumption. What these users don’t see is the entire world of Bluetooth devices that can make a person’s life a lot easier and certainly more enjoyable.

Right now, the most popular categories of devices are Bluetooth headphones and speakers. If you are a regular gym goer or enjoy running, you can probably already see how wireless headphones for workouts could liberate you from all kinds of tugging and pulling on the cable that inevitably happens during physical activities.

The same goes for a Bluetooth speaker. How cool would it be to enliven an outdoor picnic with a relaxing music or make your evening more romantic by playing your favorite selection of smooth jazz without having to first conquer a badly tangled cable? It would be very cool, indeed.

And best of all, Bluetooth headphones and speakers have become very affordable over the years. Needless to say that premium models with audiophile sound quality and high-end features are also available for those who are lucky enough to have the necessary budget to afford them.

A Brief History Lesson

Let’s get the technical stuff out the way first: Bluetooth is a wireless technology and data transmission standard using short-wavelength UHF radio waves in the ISM band from 2.4 to 2.485 GHz. It was invented by Ericsson, a multinational networking and telecommunications equipment and services company, in 1994 and is currently managed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG).

It came to life as a wireless alternative to RS-232 data cables, which were, at the time, a standard for serial communication transmission of data. Even though the standard itself was invented in 1994, it took 4 more years to formalize its specifications and release the first version of Bluetooth into the wild.

Bluetooth 1.x

Bluetooth v1.0 and v1.0B were plagued with problems, compatibility issues, and, by today’s standards, a very slow maximum data of 1 Mbps. Only devices that belong to the museum use the first generation of Bluetooth, so there’s no chance of you actually encountering one in your local electronics store.

Bluetooth 2.x

After a few additional revisions of the first generation of Bluetooth, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group released Bluetooth v2.0 in 2004. It featured an Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) for faster data transfer speeds of up to 3 Mbit/s and became the most popular variant.

Bluetooth 3.x

In 2009, the Bluetooth SIG adopted Bluetooth v3.0 + HS. The HS stands for High-Speed, allowing for theoretical data transfer speeds of up to 24 Mbit/s. This is possible because Bluetooth 3.0 allows applications to run over an alternate radio, like the one used by Wi-Fi devices. Other notable enhancements include the introduction of Enhanced Retransmission Mode (ERTM), the use of alternative MAC and PHYs for transporting Bluetooth profile data, and various updates to the power control feature.

Bluetooth 4.x

Finally, in 2010, Bluetooth v4.0 introduced the support for collecting data from Low Energy (LE) devices. This new feature was aimed specifically at the health care, fitness, beacons, security, and home entertainment industries, and its impact is all around us. Basically, every wearable device or smart home appliance you buy uses Bluetooth low energy (also marketed as Bluetooth Smart) to reduce its power consumption and, at the same time, maintain a similar communication range to the older generation of Bluetooth.

Additional revisions of Bluetooth v 4.0—Bluetooth v 4.1 and Bluetooth v 4.2—introduced certain key features for the internet of things, including privacy updates via firmware, increased co-existence support for LTE, bulk data exchange rates, and many others.

Bluetooth 5.0 Is Around the Corner

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced Bluetooth v5 in June 2016. According to their press release, Bluetooth v5 “will be called Bluetooth 5 and will include significantly increased range, speed, and broadcast messaging capacity.” The goal is to “deliver robust, reliable Internet of Things (IoT) connections that make full-home and building and outdoor use cases a reality.”

“Bluetooth 5 will transform the way people experience the IoT by making it something that happens simply and seamlessly around them,” said Mark Powell, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG. Powell expects Bluetooth 5 to “make beacons, location awareness, and other connectionless services an even more relevant part of an effortless and seamless IoT experience.” The release of Bluetooth 5 is expected to happen either late this year or early next year.

Which Bluetooth Version to Get

Simply put, when in doubt, always go for the higher version of Bluetooth when available, it will get your faster data, longer range, better security, easier pairing, and more efficient power consumption.