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In the universe of wireless technology, one question keeps being asked over over again: What’s the difference between Bluetooth vs Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)?

Well, looking at it from a historical perspective, Bluetooth (also known as Bluetooth Classic) came first. The original Bluetooth was a very popular connectivity option for products involving streaming of data and was especially suited for voice streaming. Headphones and streaming sensor applications used Classic Bluetooth.

Bluetooth’s offspring, BLE (once known as Bluetooth Smart), was birthed when the Bluetooth 4.0 specification came along. Bluetooth Low Energy offered lower power consumption up to 5 percent of that of Classic Bluetooth.

Common Denominators

While Bluetooth and BLE have considerable differences, they also have a fair share of similarities:

  • Both Bluetooth Classic and Bluetooth LE operate with the same pairing technology, authentication and even encryption,
  • Both Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy involve devices that operate in a classic master-slave model. First the Bluetooth devices need to be paired and then the data transmission can happen.
  • Both Bluetooth Classic and Bluetooth LE operate in the same 2.4 GHz ISM band and have similar RF output power.

The Big Difference and Bigger Impact

Bluetooth Low Energy essentially operates in sleep mode and awakens only when a connection is initiated. Consequently, a Bluetooth LE device offers power consumption of microamperes and peak power consumption of only 15-20 mA. This translates to a power savings over Classic Bluetooth of a magnitude 1-5 percent versus Classic Bluetooth devices. Amazingly, Bluetooth Low Energy devices can be powered by a coin cell battery for one to five years.

Consequently, Bluetooth Low Energy is ideally suited to connectivity in products that require only periodic transfer of data and not continuous streaming of data. This makes Bluetooth Low Energy suitable to IOT applications such as building automation and lighting.

Side By Side Comparison

Despite being an older technology, Bluetooth Classic is not ready for retirement. It does have its uses. Evaluating them both and their strengths, the winners would look something like this:

–Connection Setup Speed: BLE

–Range of the Device: Classic Bluetooth

–Cheaper: BLE

–Number of Slaves Attached to the Master: BLE

–Throughput: Classic Bluetooth

Bottom Line

Classic Bluetooth works best when the throughput required is of a higher value and where power consumption, cost, connection speed and slave attachments are not important. Use BLE when these factors do matter.

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