What Is Bluetooth 5?

A look at the latest version of the short-range technology

Young woman of South Asian ethnicity using cell phone and Bluetooth headphones in Scanlon Creek Conservation Area
Woman wearing Bluetooth headphones. Jim Craigmyle / Design Pics / Getty Images

Bluetooth 5, released in July 2016, is the latest version of the short-range wireless standard. Bluetooth technology, managed by the Bluetooth SIG (special interest group), allows devices to communicate wirelessly and broadcast data or audio from one to another. Bluetooth 5 quadruples the wireless range, doubles speed, and increases the bandwidth to allow for broadcasting to two wireless devices at once. A smaller change is in the name. The previous version was called Bluetooth v4.2, but for the new version, the SIG has simplified the naming convention to Bluetooth 5 rather than Bluetooth v5.0 or Bluetooth 5.0.

Bluetooth 5 Improvements

The benefits of Bluetooth 5, as we mention above, are threefold: range, speed, and bandwidth. The wireless range of Bluetooth 5 maxes out at 120 meters, compared to 30 meters for Bluetoothv4.2. This increase in range, plus the ability to transmit audio to two devices, means that people could send audio to multiple rooms in a house, create a stereo effect in one space, or share audio between two sets of headphones. The extended range also helps it better communicate the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem (aka smart devices that connect to the Internet).

Another area in which Bluetooth 5 adds improvement is with Beacon technology, in which businesses, such as retail can beam messages to nearby potential customers with deal offers or advertisements. Depending on how you feel about ads, this is either a good thing or a bad thing, but you can opt out of this functionality by turning off location services and checking app permissions for retail stores. Beacon technology can also facilitate navigation indoors, such as in an airport or shopping mall (who hasn't gotten lost in either of these locations), and make it easier for warehouses to track inventory. The Bluetooth SIG reports that more than 371 million beacons will ship by 2020.

To take advantage of Bluetooth 5, you'll need a compatible device. Your 2016 or older model phone can't upgrade to this version of Bluetooth. Smartphone manufacturers started adopting Bluetooth 5 in 2017 with the iPhone 8, iPhone X, and Samsung Galaxy S8. Expect to see it in your next high-end smartphone; lower-end phones will lag behind in adoption. Other Bluetooth 5 devices to look out for include tablets, headphones, speakers, and smart home devices.

What Does Bluetooth Do?

As we said above, Bluetooth technology enables short-range wireless communication. One popular usage is to connect a smartphone to wireless headphones for listening to music or chatting on the phone. If you've ever linked your smartphone to your car's audio system or a GPS navigation device for hands-free calls and texts, you've used Bluetooth. It also powers smart speakers, such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices, and smart home devices such as lights and thermostats. This wireless technology can work even through walls, but if there are too many obstructions between the audio source and the receiver, the connection will fizzle. Keep this in mind when placing Bluetooth speakers around your home or office.