Comparison Between Bluetooth & WiFi

by Shawn McClain

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, short for Wireless Fidelity, are wireless technologies that allow devices to interact with each other. Both technologies were created in the 1990s and took off with consumers in the early 2000s. While the two technologies originally had different uses, as more and more devices come equipped with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, they began to compete against each other for a share of the wireless connectivity market.


Wi-Fi was created by a team of people working for NCR Corporation and AT&T; in 1991. The original Wi-Fi was designed for cashier systems and was marketed under the name WaveLAN. By 2000, Wi-Fi technology had turned into the ideal wireless technology for short range wireless home networking. Bluetooth was designed in 1999 by Swedish telecom giant Ericsson. Ericsson gathered several other major manufacturers, such as Nokia, IBM and Intel, to create the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, or SIG. The Bluetooth SIG would spend the next decade working to try and make Bluetooth technology the dominant wireless technology for device networking.

Primary Uses

Both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, at least on the surface, appear to be the same thing--a wireless networking standard--but they have some major differences that allow them to excel in different areas of networking. Bluetooth has a very small range and uses very little power, so it is ideal for portable devices that can be easily moved and have relatively little data to send and receive. Wi-Fi, by comparison, uses a lot of power and has a much larger range, so it is better in devices that are plugged into an outlet and need to send and receive a lot of data.


In 2009 and 2010, the leading industry group for each of the two technologies released statements regarding near-future advancements that would encroach on the turf of the other. Bluetooth version 3.0 + High Speed merges the latest version of Bluetooth protocol with the 802.11 protocol, which is what Wi-Fi uses, in order to increase the maximum speeds of data transfers. The latest Wi-Fi specification, called Wi-Fi Direct, includes easier methods of quickly connecting two devices together, in hopes of getting more mobile devices to incorporate Wi-Fi.


Wi-Fi has a considerable speed advantage over Bluetooth because it is designed more for home networking than for device connectivity. The Wi-Fi protocol used in 2010, 802.11g, has a maximum data rate of 54 mbps compared with Bluetooth technology, which has a maximum data rate of 3 mbps. Both technologies have plans for 2010 and beyond that will bring these numbers much higher.

Power Consumption

A Wi-Fi device is constantly transmitting data back and forth between connections, and it needs a lot of energy to transmit large amounts of data. Bluetooth, on the other hand, keeps a connection with very little energy being spent, about one-fifth that of a Wi-Fi connection. Since Bluetooth uses less energy, it is better suited for use in small portable electronics that rely on battery power.

About the Author

Shawn McClain has spent over 15 years as a journalist covering technology, business, culture and the arts. He has published numerous articles in both national and local publications, and online at various websites. He is currently pursuing his master's degree in journalism at Clarion University.

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