There is a saying about the importance of learning. It is something like; the worst question is the one you don’t make. This means that you never have to give up on learning something new, even if you feel that is something that everyone knows.
We can imagine that you don’t know what the difference between WiFi and Bluetooth is, and that’s why you are reading this text. Well, you chose the right place to solve your doubts. And relax, because we know that not everyone really knows the difference between WiFi and Bluetooth for real.
We are going to make a short but intense trip through the most accepted definitions and uses for WiFi and Bluetooth, to make some comparisons that are as clear as possible to understand the technical, theoretical and practical differences between these two technologies.
But we are convinced that if we really want to learn the difference between these two, we need to start with a little trip to the past to meet the historic fundamentals of wireless technology for communications in our lives.
For years, wires were the core of every part of the communication revolution. So how it started that two or more points not connected by this electrical conductor started to transfer information between them?
A lot of years ago, all started in 1880 with the photophone. It was the first wireless conversation between two people on a distance, a concept by Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter that used a beam of light to sent audio. So it was the sunlight that replaced wires for the first time.
Electric currents travelled through water and the ground, and we started the 20th century with practical radio systems, the first massive form of wireless tech. Heinrich Hertz proved the presence of radio waves in 1888 and Gugliemo Marconi developed the wireless telegraph using them. With this scientific breakthrough, we started to communicate with each other from long distances, helped then by the then-unknown ionosphere that bounced those signals in unimagined distances.
But the real wireless revolution that led us to our two favourite technologies we are discussing here started almost one century after. Advances in Radio Frequency and Microwave Engineering and the extensive use of satellites, lead the world a paradigm shift and social revolution pushed with the cellphone, mobile telephones, wireless computer networks, the wireless Internet, and the laptops, just to mention some of them.
The metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor or MOS transistor (MOSFET) finally allowed to receive and transmit wireless signals at a low cost and power consumption. The advances complementary Radio Frequency version of it (RFCMOS) became the building block for technology that plays a central role in humans life nowadays.
RFCMOS is the philosopher’s stone for the wireless world where we live now, with a variety of applications like satellite technology (e.g. GPS), BlueTooth, WiFi, near-field communication (NFC), mobile networks such as 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, and more.
And let’s say one more last thing about the word “wireless”: it is used as we do it since the 1980s and the 1990s, first to make a difference between digital devices that didn’t use wires, and then to refer to the appearance of technologies such as mobile broadband, WiFi and Bluetooth. Our world literally became “wireless;” from the few meters of connection of Bluetooth to the millions of kilometres of distance used for deep-space radio communications.
WiFi vs Bluetooth
WiFi and Bluetooth symbols became part of our life. We basically see them in the options of most of the electronic devices we use. But what actually happens when we touch them on a screen and activate them? How different are they?
Even if both WiFi and Bluetooth are wireless techs, there are some significant differences between the definition and usage of them. The most obvious us that we use WiFi to connect our devices to the Internet, and BlueTooth to connect our devices. Both team-up, for example, when we are in the street listening to music. We got the music from the Internet because of the WiFi reception of our phone. Then our mobile connects to our wireless headphones through BlueTooth, providing us with the possibility of listening to what the smartphone is reproducing.
We can define WiFi as a feature that allows our devices to get connected to the Internet. We access using a local area network LAN, that can be provided in a public space like a park, or our home using a router.
If you remember -or saw in a late 90’s series on the TV-, we started using the Internet with telephone wires connected to our computer. WiFi allows us now to navigate through the web without this cable outlet or phone line. What happens exactly is that your modem catches an Internet signal, which a WiFi router take and transform into a radio signal. Finally, your devices that support WiFi retake this radio signal and turn it again into its original Internet form.
Nowadays, almost all tech devices support WiFi. The first device in our home that did it was the TV, that got the Smart TV name from this transition. Now you have it for printers, digital cameras, audio players, tablets, smartphones, laptops and even desktop computers. And of course, when you see that symbol in a cafe, restaurant or a bar, you know that is a place that offers you an Internet connection.
WiFi signals can be more or less intense depending on the router’s power, but an average standard distance is 100 meters. You can quickly know how fast and stable is a WiFi connection in several websites where you can run a WiFi speed test.
WiFi also allows two devices using the same network to connect. Two computers, for example, interacting with each other transferring files, or a digital photo camera sending data to its application hosted in a smartphone.
The concept “Internet of the Things,” usually related to the 5G technology that is now coming, will open a world of possibilities. One inspiring example? In the future, if all the cars of the world can be connected to the Internet, it will be possible to create software that makes car crash accidents not possible. In the other hand, there are concerns about the privacy of users, that by the way are becoming the primary argument for several conspiracy theories that are popping up in the last years.
What is Bluetooth?
Bluetooth is a small-scale wireless connection technology that provides data transfer between electronic devices in a short distance. As we said, is what you usually use with earphones, speakers, keyboards or mouses nowadays, devices that not many time ago were only used with cables.
Radio signals are the core of BlueTooth technology, just as it happens with WiFi. Not only that: BlueTooth uses some frequencies that WiFi uses as well, a situation that in fact, can create some interference. Maybe the more obvious difference is that you usually don’t need a password to complete a BlueTooth connection, a usual thing in WiFi nets.
The standard procedure to geet two devices powered by BlueTooth connected is to activate the reception of it with a button that you can find either on a screen or as a physical button. This process is called “pairing,” which is necessary to connect headphones with a smart TV, or a mouse with a laptop.
The reason why BlueTooth connections are usually not protected with passwords is quite explicit: to try to make the process smoother and faster for users. The thing is that obviously, because of this, the connection is not secure, as WiFi connections use to be.
BlueTooth power is lower than WiFi in terms of speed and range for connection. There is less data that can be transferred, and a maximum of 10 meters. The thing is that the devices we usually use with BlueTooth are always close to us. We expect from it BlueTooth to be instantaneous, more than have long ranges or significant data transfer.
BlueTooth was created to make device connection through cables unnecessary. It did it and survived to become an industry standard. We find it in almost all of the most common devices we usually use in our regular life, including console gaming, watches, trackers, and even modern medical devices. Its symbol on a product is the message you want when you want to be sure that annoying cables are not needed to use some specific device.
Is it possible to use WiFi and Bluetooth separated?
It is absolutely reasonable and possible to use BlueTooth to transfer data from one device to another one, without using a WiFi connection. But as we said, many devices need a WiFi connection to operate correctly, so this will not be possible in this latter case.
What if you are using your tablet to watch Netflix or Amazon Prime and you are getting the audio from wireless headphones? Of course that both can still be connected with BlueTooth, but this is pointless considering that the tablet needs WiFi to connect to the Internet and download the streaming from those services.
It is now WiFi and Bluetooth difference more clear? We hope that this little trip helps you a bit. And be on the ball: the history of the evolution of this both technologies will keep going in the next years.