Flexible Transmission

Most of the time, a network or communications method either works in one direction at a time, called half-duplex communication, or in both directions simultaneously, called full-duplex communication. A speakerphone that lets you either listen or talk, but not both, is an example of half-duplex communication, while a regular telephone handset is a full-duplex device. Because Bluetooth is designed to work in a number of different circumstances, it can be either half-duplex or full-duplex.

The cordless telephone is an example of a use that will call for a full-duplex (two-way) link, and Bluetooth can send data at more than 64 kilobits per second (Kbps) in a full-duplex link -- a rate high enough to support several voice conversations. If a particular use calls for a half-duplex link -- connecting to a computer printer, for example -- Bluetooth can transmit up to 721 Kbps in one direction, with 57.6 Kbps in the other. If the use calls for the same speed in both directions, Bluetooth can establish a link with 432.6-Kbps capacity in each direction.

Bluetooth Piconets

Let's say you have a typical modern living room with typical modern stuff inside. There's an entertainment system with a stereo, a DVD player, a satellite TV receiver and a television; there's also a cordless telephone and a personal computer. Each of these systems uses Bluetooth, and each forms its own piconet to talk between the main unit and peripheral.

The cordless telephone has one Bluetooth transmitter in the base and another in the handset. The manufacturer has programmed each unit with an address that falls into a range of addresses it has established for a particular type of device. When the base is first turned on, it sends radio signals asking for a response from any units with an address in a particular range. Since the handset has an address in the range, it responds, and a tiny network is formed. Now, even if one of these devices should receive a signal from another system, it will ignore it since it's not from within the network. The computer and entertainment system go through similar routines, establishing networks among addresses in ranges established by manufacturers. Once the networks are established, the systems begin talking among themselves. Each piconet hops randomly through the available frequencies, so all of the piconets are completely separated from one another.

Now the living room has three separate networks established, each one made up of devices that know the address of transmitters it should listen to and the address of receivers it should talk to. Since each network is changing the frequency of its operation thousands of times a second, it's unlikely that any two networks will be on the same frequency at the same time. If it turns out that they are, then the resulting confusion will only cover a tiny fraction of a second, and software designed to correct for such errors weeds out the confusing information and gets on with the network's business.