Tech Tips: Are Bluetooth and Wi-Fi the same thing?
While most people these days likely hear the terms "Bluetooth", "Wi-Fi" and "wireless" all the time - particularly in advertisements - it's no surprise that many think they're all one and the same. The truth is, however, that the two wireless technologies are far from identical and actually serve very different purposes.
Indeed, both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi - short for "wireless fidelity" - use radio waves to transmit information through the air, but that's about all they really share in common. The maximum physical distance in which most Bluetooth devices can transmit information, for example, is only about 30 feet, whereas the maximum range of modern Wi-Fi devices can exceed several hundred feet, given ideal conditions.
Transmission speeds between the two technologies also vary. The most recent Wi-Fi gadgets outpace traditional Bluetooth devices by nearly tenfold.
So what's the primary difference between the two? Bluetooth was designed primarily to replace cumbersome cables, like the ones between a computer and mouse, or those between a cell phone and a headset.
Wi-Fi devices, in contrast, generally connect to an access point often referred to as a "hot spot" that gives them high-speed access to resources on the local network, which may include printers, shared folders on other computers, and Internet access.
Wi-Fi is actually a part of the formal IEEE specification dubbed 802.11. 802.11 has had several important revisions - all of which are represented by a letter of the alphabet, most notably a, b, g, i and n. The most recent, 802.11n, increases transmissions speeds up to 100 Mbps (one million bits per second) and improves both Wi-Fi's reach and reliability. Wi-Fi technology can be found in almost all notebook computers produced during the last decade, as well as many "all in one" computers like the Apple iMac.
And while advancements to Wi-Fi continue to be made time and time again, further developments to Bluetooth have stalled considerably, partly due to confusion among consumers as to what it does and how it works. The difficulty involved in getting certain Bluetooth devices to pair correctly - so they can speak to one another - has slowed consumer adoption.
But Bluetooth shouldn't be counted out too quickly. Like Wi-Fi, it's been around since the mid-1990s, and isn't going away any time soon.
So, in short, if a computer's mouse or keyboard lacks wires it's probably powered by Bluetooth technology, and if a notebook computer is surfing the Internet, it's probably doing so with Wi-Fi technology.