Bluetooth vs. USB Speed

By Dan Stone

Close-up of an USB cable plugged into a laptop computer
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Bluetooth and USB are two data transfer technologies widely used with computers, smartphones and other electronic devices. Barring the first USB standard, USB devices blow away Bluetooth device speeds. However, USB devices are encumbered by a connection cable, whereas Bluetooth devices feature wireless communication. Both standards feature cross-generation compatibility and continue to receive performance boosts with version upgrades.

About USB Technology

USB is the most widely used hardware standard for connecting peripherals and devices to computers, smartphones and other devices. The USB standard has been around since 1997 and replaced most of the prior computer connection ports. USB is suited for high-bandwidth data transfers. It's designed to move data as quickly as possible between devices over a cable. Configuring USB devices is often as easy as plugging in one end of the cable to each device and letting the computer handle the rest.

About Bluetooth Technology

Bluetooth is the standard for short-range wireless data transfers. While USB was first to market, Bluetooth came out just a year later in 1998 and can trace its origins to 1994. Bluetooth technology is intended for wireless, constant communication for two-way interfacing with peripherals like headsets, keyboards and mice. Bluetooth operates in the 2.4-GHz band in full-duplex mode.

USB Transfer Speeds and Perks

External hard drives, printers, scanners, mice and keyboards use USB for its high bandwidth and compatibility. The USB 3.1 standard raises the maximum data transfer rate to 10 gigabits per second and maintains backward compatibility with existing USB 2.0 and 3.0 devices. USB 3.0, introduced in 2008, transfers data at 4800 megabits per second, USB 2.0, introduced in 2001, transfers data at 480 Mbps, and USB 1.0, introduced in 1997, transfers data at 12 Mbps. While stuck with cables, USB is not prone to signal degradation by radio interference. In addition, USB cables can carry electrical current to power devices.

Bluetooth Transfer Speeds and Perks

Bluetooth transfer speeds cap out at 24 Mbps in the 4.1 standard revision. Prior Bluetooth editions capped out at 3 Mbps, going as low as 1Mbps in the 1.2 version. Bluetooth 3.0 + HS allows 24 Mbps transfer speeds by piggy-backing on Wi-Fi. Bluetooth's biggest advantage is that it can connect devices that are up to 100 meters away from each other without cabling. For example, you could walk around the house with a Bluetooth headset and never lose the connection with the computer or phone. The Bluetooth technology is designed to use minimal energy to extend device battery life.