What Is Bluetooth 5?

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

Bluetooth 5, released in July 2016, is the latest version of the short-range wireless standard. Compared to the previous version, it quadruples the wireless range, doubles speed, and increases the bandwidth to allow for broadcasting to two wireless devices at once.

Bluetooth 5 Improvements

The benefits of Bluetooth 5 are threefold: range, speed, and bandwidth.

Wireless Range Quadrupled

The wireless range of Bluetooth 5 maxes out at 120 meters, compared to 30 meters for Bluetooth v4.2. This improvement means that people can send audio or other data at greater distances to other rooms in the home or the backyard.

The extended range also helps it better communicate the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem (i.e., smart devices that connect to the internet).

Double the Speed

Bluetooth 5 is twice as fast as Bluetooth v4.2, which means a shorter delay in transmitting, for example, music from one source to another.

Increased Bandwidth

You can broadcast to two devices at once with Bluetooth 5, which means you can send audio from your smartphone or laptop to multiple rooms in a house, create a stereo effect in one space, or share audio between two sets of headphones.

Beacon Technology

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.

Naming Convention

A smaller change is in the name. The previous version was called Bluetooth v4.2, but for this version, the Bluetooth SIG (special interest group) has simplified the naming convention to Bluetooth 5 rather than Bluetooth v5.0 or Bluetooth 5.0.

How to Get Bluetooth 5

To take advantage of Bluetooth 5, you'll need a compatible device. Smartphone manufacturers started adopting Bluetooth 5 in 2017 with the iPhone 8, iPhone X, and Samsung Galaxy S8. Other Bluetooth 5 devices to look out for include tablets, headphones, speakers, and smart home devices.

What Does Bluetooth Do?

Bluetooth technology enables short-range wireless communication. One common 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.

FAQ
  • What's the Bluetooth 5 audio bitrate?

    Bluetooth 5 supports an audio bitrate of up to 2 Mbps. (This is a maximum speed that assumes no interference.) In contrast, Bluetooth 4 supported half that bitrate with 1 Mbps measurements.

  • How do I upgrade to Bluetooth 5?

    If your smartphone isn't already Bluetooth 5-enabled, there's no way to upgrade it; you'll need to upgrade to a device that has Bluetooth 5 compatibility. For computers, you can update Bluetooth capability by installing a new Bluetooth adapter.

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