Bluetooth: What does it really do and will it be replaced?

A look at the ins and outs of Bluetooth and what its future holds

This upgrade will also likely be of enormous benefit to the Internet of Things, as that has designs on fully connecting houses and even cities. However Bluetooth 4.1 was only released in December 2013, so it's not in widespread use just yet.

The contenders

Bluetooth has had a good run and as it's continually improving it's managed to stay relevant. But it's got some competition now, most notably from NFC and Wi-Fi Direct.

According to Paula Hunter, NFC Forum Executive Director, NFC (or Near Field Communication) is useful for "everything from access control to device pairing to mobile payments to smart posters. It is particularly well-suited to use cases where the user wants to initiate an action quickly and easily over a short range."

It "harmonises today's diverse contactless technologies, enabling solutions in areas such as information collection and exchange, access control, healthcare, loyalty and coupons, transportation, payments, and consumer electronics."

NFC cotactless payment

In a lot of ways then it's like Bluetooth, as it allows two devices to communicate and transfer data. It also consumes less power than standard Bluetooth and according to Hunter it "sets up faster than Bluetooth and is better at point-to-point communications."

However it is much shorter range than Bluetooth, requiring devices to either be touching or within around 4 centimetres of one another, while Bluetooth has a range of up to 100 metres.

It can play a role in longer range communication, for example Google's Android Beam makes use of it, but it simply uses NFC as a quick and easy way to activate Bluetooth and pair two devices, as by touching the two devices together Bluetooth will be enabled and the two devices will automatically be paired. After which Bluetooth handles the heavy lifting.

Samsung's S-Beam uses NFC in a similar way, but it activates Wi-Fi Direct rather than Bluetooth.

Hunter explains that "NFC's bi-directional communication ability is ideal for establishing connections with other technologies with the simplicity of touch. For example, if a user wants to connect a mobile device to a stereo system to play music, he can simply touch the device to the stereo's NFC touchpoint and the devices will negotiate the best wireless technology to use."


NFC in itself more complements Bluetooth than replaces it. As while there is some shared functionality and even some things that NFC is better at, such as contactless payments, ultimately the incredibly short range of NFC means that it will never be in a position to truly replace Bluetooth.

According to Hunter "the two technologies are complementary. NFC is great at showing intent, pairing devices and completing simple transactions with a touch. Bluetooth LE is great for micro-location, push-marketing and having a persistent connection with smart wearables."

Going direct

Wi-Fi Direct could be a bigger threat to Bluetooth as it doesn't have the same range restrictions as NFC.

According to Tina Hanzlik, Wi-Fi Alliance's Senior Marketing Manager, with Wi-Fi Direct "two or more devices can connect directly by Peer-to-Peer in the absence of a traditional Wi-Fi hotspot or network.

"Wi-Fi Direct-certified devices can also connect directly with nearly all of the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED devices a user already owns, allowing users, their co-workers, friends and family to connect anywhere, anytime."

As Wi-Fi Direct can be used to connect devices and transfer data between them it can carry out many of the same functions as Bluetooth, and in some ways it's even better as it can transfer data at much higher speeds than Bluetooth.

That's a big advantage as while Bluetooth tops out at around 24 Mbps, Wi-Fi Direct is more than ten times faster, with speeds of up to around 250 Mbps.

Wi Fi Direct

It's versatile too. Hanzlik states that "Wi-Fi Direct devices can perform any function or application that you do today over standard Wi-Fi connections. Devices can connect for file sharing and syncing, sending messages, printing, gaming, displaying video, or playing audio."