What is the Difference Between Bluetooth&Reg; and WiFi&Reg; ?

R. Kayne

Bluetooth® and WiFi® are both wireless technologies that use radio frequency (RF) waves to create networks, but they’re used for fundamentally different purposes. Bluetooth®’s main purpose is to temporarily link an individual’s personal devices together over short distances, while the purpose of WiFi® is to link multiple computers together over longer distances.

A Bluetooth® dongle.
A Bluetooth® dongle.

Although Bluetooth® and WiFi® both create networks, Bluetooth® creates a Personal Area Network (PAN) by generating low frequency radio waves that all Bluetooth®-enabled devices in the immediate area can join to be interoperable. You might think of this as a “shroud” surrounding an individual user. A Bluetooth® headset, for example, allows hands-free cell phone use for driving or working. Other types of personal devices can swap files, synchronize data and even share access to the Internet through an Internet-enabled laptop, cell phone, personal digital assistant (PDA) or iPod®.

Bluetooth sharing enables phone users to share and transfer files from one phone to the other.
Bluetooth sharing enables phone users to share and transfer files from one phone to the other.

A Bluetooth® network can also be used to send files from your laptop to your desktop, or from your laptop to your printer. If a machine does not come with Bluetooth® capability built-in, adapters are available. Most adapters make use of a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port, but other types of adapters are also available.

WiFi® also uses radio frequency (RF) waves, but its protocols are designed to connect multiple computers. In the case of a business, WiFi® allows many computers to communicate with each other without stringing cable between them, saving considerable money and time in the installation process. Computers operating over the WiFi® LAN can share databases, files, programs and resources including printers, scanners and fax machines. The computers might also share Internet access, though this isn’t a requirement of a LAN.

A home WiFi® network is almost always setup to share Internet access among all computers in the household, while it may or may not be configured to share files and resources. Between Bluetooth® and WiFi®, Bluetooth® is much easier to use for swapping files between computers at home, and even for sending files to a nearby printer. There is virtually no setup involved in establishing a Bluetooth® network, while a LAN requires some configuration and know-how to allow sharing of files and resources.

Since Bluetooth® works with battery operated devices, it most commonly uses a low-powered Class 2 radio to broadcast the RF network, generating a weak signal that doesn’t extend effectively beyond 30 feet (~10 meters) or so. Class 1 Bluetooth® can reach 10x further, geared towards connecting home devices powered by electricity. WiFi® also comes in different flavors and architectures, currently meeting or exceeding the 300-foot (~100m) range.

Bluetooth® and WiFi® each follow specific protocols and standards that make it easy for manufacturers to design and market Bluetooth® and WiFi® products that will be interoperable with other brands and products that support the same standards. For example, as of winter 2008 the current Bluetooth® standard is 2.0 and the newest available WiFi® standard is 802.11n, faster than the previous standard, 802.11g. When shopping for network-capable devices, be sure they support the desired standard and version.

Another way that Bluetooth® and WiFi® differ is that WiFi® is supported by modems and routers, while a near-infinite range of products might support Bluetooth®. Personal devices and home entertainment products are forever evolving, making interoperability a highly desired feature. Perhaps the biggest commonality between Bluetooth® and WiFi® is that both technologies are incredibly useful and widespread; in homes, businesses, government, and in virtually every aspect of life.

Bluetooth refers to short-range wireless connections between devices.
Bluetooth refers to short-range wireless connections between devices.

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Discussion Comments

anon158617

i wish also to know how you can protect another device from accessing your wireless hot spot.

anon132502

No comparison between frequencies used?

anon91806

I was wondering what the difference between the actual wave properties of Bluetooth and Wifi were? do they have similar wavelengths and frequencies?

Cheers

anon52670

The correct spelling is "Wi-Fi" not "WiFi"

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