Posted on Sep 26, 2012 in Tech & internet
I have one of those hands-free Bluetooth things for my phone, and it’s super-helpful — but how does this tech actually work?
Remember back in the bad old days of cell phones, where if you wanted hands-free operation, you actually had to plug in a corded headset? They were cumbersome, prone to failing, and — let’s be honest — really dorky looking.
Enter the ubiquitous Bluetooth headset. No wires to get tangled, no plug to accidentally break off when you shove the phone in your pocket and — well, okay, they’re still kinda dorky looking. You can’t win them all.
So how does this wireless marvel work its magic?
Invented by engineers from Ericsson in 1994, the technology was named after the 10th century King of Denmark, Harald Bluetooth — who united Scandinavia in much the same way the inventors hoped their Bluetooth would unite the PC and cellular industries with a wireless link. And while it seems magical and amazing, Bluetooth’s base technology is nothing more than radio.
Operating in the same 2.4 GHz band that things like Wi-Fi, cordless phones and even your microwave oven use, Bluetooth devices are a fancy type of radio transmitter and receiver that originally employed a frequency hopping technique called Gaussian Frequency Shift Keying (GFSK) to avoid interference from other devices. Newer Bluetooth 2 devices use Phase Shift Keying (PSK) to achieve higher data rates. Each Bluetooth transmission only remains on a single frequency for a brief period of time — very brief — before “hopping” to the next in a pseudo-random sequence. The Bluetooth standard uses a hopping rate of 1,600 hops per second, and will resend any data lost due to interference on the very next hop.
Now, while Bluetooth headsets — and computer mice, keyboards, and anything else using the standard — operate on roughly the same frequency as your microwave oven, you don’t have to worry about cooking your brain. Even the most powerful Bluetooth devices only put out 100 milliwatts (mW) — or roughly 1/10,000 the power of an average microwave oven, and the headsets generally only use 1 to 2.5 mW.
So while you might look like you’ve fried your brain because you think it’s fine to wear that thing all the time, you’re perfectly safe.
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