Don't Race to Replace Your Electronic Devices Now That Faster Bluetooth 5 is Finally Here
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Don't Race to Replace Your Electronic Devices Now That Faster Bluetooth 5 is Finally Here

Bluetooth 5 devices offer much better speed and range, but support isn't widespread yet

June 17, 2019

A lot electronic devices today, from phones to medical devices, have Bluetooth technology. With the vast proliferation of Bluetooth, having fasting and longer-range signals is very important. The new Bluetooth 5 specification is making things a lot faster and giving much better range, but you shouldn't start replacing your devices and peripherals just yet solely to take advantage of the changes.

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is commonly used for wireless headphones and other audio hardware, such as wireless keyboards, mice, and game controllers. It's used in thermostats, smoke alarms, and televisions. You can find it in your car, in your doctor's medical devices and even (surprisingly) pregnancy tests.

Bluetooth was developed in 1994 and was intended to replace cables. Using the same 2.4GHz frequency as WiFi devices, it creates a small network between a number of devices. It's a very short range network, only about 30-35 feet, but it can allow you to connect to a device as-needed without having to connect to another network. This can be useful if you have a Bluetooth-enabled laptop and want to print to someone's printer but don't have cables.

Faster Connectivity, Longer Distances

Bluetooth was once a novelty, but it's now a central component in the "Internet of Things," the network of everyday devices that collect and transmit data across the Web. Bluetooth 5 is a significant improvement over Bluetooth 4.2. Bluetooth 5 works at distances of about 400 feet, which is significantly more than the old version. It will also work at data transfer rates of 2Mbps (megabits per second), which is about twice the current speed. That's still nowhere near the speeds of WiFi networks, but for basic tasks it's more than sufficient. Just remember that the speed will decrease as the distance between the devices increases.

Backwards Compatible

Bluetooth 5 is only backward compatible with Bluetooth 4.0, Bluetooth 4.1 and Bluetooth 4.2, but to get the speed and range improvements you will need to have a Bluetooth 5 device connecting to another Bluetooth 5 device. If you buy a new smartphone with Bluetooth 5, it will operate as Bluetooth 4.2 if you are connecting to a Bluetooth 4.2 device. That means that you'll still be able to connect, but you won't see any benefits. Bluetooth 5 won't connect to legacy devices.

Lower Energy Usage

The new Bluetooth 5 is made to the Bluetooth Low Energy specification, which uses less power than classic Bluetooth. This means that your devices will use less energy for your devices, such as watches and wireless earbuds. More devices will use the Bluetooth Low Energy specification in the future, which means increased energy savings. Better yet, the energy use doesn't increase as the distance between devices increase, which has been a problem before. The Bluetooth Low Energy specification is very useful for medical devices and wearables.

Dual Audio Technology

The new Bluetooth 5 brings a feature that allows you to play audio on two connected devices at the same time. This means that you can have two sets of wireless earbuds connected and playing at the same time, which is great for working out with a buddy or for streaming audio to speakers in separate rooms.

Bluetooth 5 Support is limited

Support for Bluetooth 5 is increasing, but it hasn't received widespread adoption yet. Bluetooth 4.2 is still an industry standard, and it takes times for manufacturers to fully implement changes and improvements to their devices. But you'll almost certainly find support for Bluetooth 5 in flagship smartphones. Apple was the first to introduce support with the iPhone 8, followed by Samsung with the Galaxy S8. But it's only now that other devices are getting Bluetooth 5 support.

Expect manufactures to first start introducing Bluetooth 5 devices where speed, distance and low power use are crucial, such as in smartphones and wearables. You probably won't find Bluetooth 5 support in some types of devices for a while, such as wireless mice and keyboards, that won't really benefit from the improvements.

Should you upgrade?

Generally, most consumers shouldn't upgrade their devices to take advantage of the improvements unless there is a specific need for a longer range or the greater speed. If you have a phone with Bluetooth 5 but find that your Bluetooth speaker cuts out when you move it across the room, it might be worth the expense to upgrade your speaker to take advantage of the range. If you don't have a Bluetooth 5 phone, that would be a lot of money to replace both devices. But most people will be just fine with their current Bluetooth devices.