What is Bluetooth LE (Bluetooth Smart)?

When everything in your home is internet connected, chances are most of it will be done through Bluetooth. Bluetooth is designed to be a low-speed, short-range technology for connecting things like headphones, but it’s also a big part of the “internet of things.” This is a concept that’s really taking off this year thanks to smart devices like Amazon’s Echo Dot, and it means that finally, locating your keys from your phone will be as easy as locating an airport in Malaysia is. It does always seem kind of silly that there’s so much information out there about very distant things but very close things are annoyingly un-connected. Bluetooth LE hopes to change that.

Bluetooth LE (standing for Low Energy) is a technology that’s been around for about a decade and it’s actually completely different from the “regular” Bluetooth system. The whole idea is that you want to communicate with something that doesn’t need to send a smooth stream of data, but on the other hand doesn’t have access to power all the time.

Think about it this way. A Bluetooth headset or speaker needs to be communicating constantly with whatever’s sending sound to it. If not, you’d be in for long gaps in the sound while the two devices were connecting up. That wouldn’t be good. On the other hand, if you put a Bluetooth collar on your dog, you woudn’t need to know his location every tenth of a second. Maybe once every minute would do fine, or maybe only when you asked. On the other hand, you are probably ok charging your Bluetooth headset every couple of days, while you really don’t want to change your dog’s collar very often.

The Bluetooth speaker is not a good option for Bluetooth LE, while the dog collar is (at least so long as your dog stays in the yard, since Bluetooth has at most a 150′ range.)

The eventual goal for Bluetooth LE is that it could use so little power than it could be charged through solar or motion or something else that would mean it would never need charging. Make a Bluetooth transmitter light, waterproof and give it either a 10-year battery or some sort of charging system, and you could put them in literally anything. You could put one in your socks and never lose one again. You could put one into basically anything you tend to lose.

I predict you’ll see this technology a lot in the coming years, because it’s getting cheaper and it’s also fairly secure. The key to its security is that these Bluetooth devices don’t know anything really important and can’t learn anything important. They don’t connect to your Wi-Fi and can’t access your computer’s data. They’re not really flexible enough to be hacked (at this point anyway) and that makes them safer.

Bluetooth LE isn’t going to help you find the Cub Scout watch you lost in 1976, but it might help your kid (or grandkid) keep from losing his. And really, that’s a pretty good thing.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.