Since Monday, January 28, Bluetooth 5.1 is available to developers. Is there still a place for Bluetooth in the rapidly changing market of wireless communication? Or will the old technology have to deal with 5G, NFC and other modern forms of communication?

Bluetooth has captured the hearts of both developers and consumers over the past 20 years. The introduction of the technology in 1998 was almost identical to the rise of mobile telephony, which meant that developers of mobile software eagerly made use of the new wireless communication way. It is therefore not surprising that many people will associate bluetooth with their (old) mobile phones.

Whether you wanted to play your music via wireless headphones, or to share contacts with friends and colleagues: Bluetooth was your best friend. In many cases, the technology can still be used for those purposes, but the sole dominance of Bluetooth gets more and more resistance.

Restrictions on Bluetooth

In recent years, a lot has changed in the way we communicate wirelessly with each other. With that, our relationship with Bluetooth has also changed drastically. Where Bluetooth used to be the way to share all kinds of things with each other, that is hardly done now. We share more than ever, but never before has so little been shared via Bluetooth.

This is due to one major limitation of Bluetooth: the technology is tied to location. Most Bluetooth connections only function within a maximum radius of ten meters. In addition, solid materials can weaken or even block the signal. Sharing a song with a friend at a party is not a problem, but sending a document from home to your colleague in the office – with Bluetooth absolutely impossible.


Soon these functionalities were taken over by wireless internet. When the coverage in the Netherlands and Europe became ever closer, 3G was replaced by 4G and mobile internet bundles became increasingly affordable, wireless file sharing came quickly within reach. Especially with the rise of smartphones, apps and cloud services it is becoming easier to share business with each other, wherever we are.

In that respect, the future does not look bright for Bluetooth. Now that more and more devices and services are coming that run entirely on the cloud (think of the Chromebooks and Google Drive), it is no longer a problem to share files and data with each other. At that point, Bluetooth does not have much more to offer.


However, there are also enough functionalities that you want to perform on location. Consider, for example, playing music via an external speaker, paying wirelessly or interacting with advertising pillars. Here bluetooth surely still has a lot to offer? Yes and no. This function is largely taken over by Near Field Communication (NFC). This is the technology that you can find in your bank card nowadays and makes contactless payment possible.

NFC, however, has a much smaller range than Bluetooth, namely about four inches. This means that you can, for example, play music via an external speaker if you put your smartphone on top, but that the connection is disconnected as soon as you pick up your phone. Not surprising that many developers prefer Bluetooth to NFC in these situations.

Bluetooth 5.1

Like 5G and NFC, however, Bluetooth is always in development, since January 28 version 5.1 of the software is available. That update brings with it a very interesting new function: directional recognition. For 5.1, Bluetooth could only determine if there was a device nearby and make an accurate estimate of the distance between the transmitter and the receiver. With the new directional recognition, Bluetooth can also recognize where the transmitter is in relation to the receiver and the distance can be determined down to the centimeter.

This offers many possibilities for future Bluetooth applications. Consider, for example, a museum where they can get extra information about the artworks with their telephone by pointing them at a painting. Bluetooth functionalities that are already popular can also be further refined. For example, Bluetooth tags (for example, on a key ring) can not only be found 'approximately', but can be located to the nearest centimeter.

Bluetooth anno 2019

Does Bluetooth still exist in 2019? Yes. Although many of the features that developers used to use in the past have been adopted by mobile internet and NFC, there are still plenty of authentic applications for Bluetooth. Think of locating lost objects, playing music on an external speaker and marketing on location. Moreover, with the arrival of the 5.1 update, Bluetooth will only become more suitable. Thanks to Bluetooth 5.1, the technology is back again – never really gone.

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Dutch pride

Bluetooth is at least an established name in the world of wireless communication. We, as the Netherlands, can be quite proud of this. It was the Dutch electrical engineer Jaap Haartsen who developed Bluetooth. In 1998, the technology was then introduced by Finnish telecom maker Ericsson. Since then, the possibilities of Bluetooth have only been expanded. The technology is widely used for audio streaming, data sharing, location services and more.

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