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How Bluetooth Works

Bluetooth Piconets

smartphone and smart speaker on pink background
Bluetooth technology powers both smartphones and smart speakers. Yagi Studio/Getty Images

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Imagine a typical modern living room with typical modern stuff inside. There's an entertainment system, a DVD player, television, perhaps a smart speaker; there may be also a smartphone, cordless phone and a laptop 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, creating a tiny network. Now, even if one of these devices should receive a signal from another system, it will ignore it because 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.

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