First, a Short Story…
Before I dive into the meat of the topic (Bluetooth Low Energy vs. Bluetooth Classic), I’d like to tell you a little story…
A few years ago (circa 2012), a friend of mine came to me with an idea that he wanted to partner with me on developing.
At that time, the “Internet of Things (IoT)” term was just picking up and becoming a hot topic. Venture Capitalists (VCs) were dumping loads of money into any startup that threw around the term “IoT” in their offering (kind of like how it is these days with AI, ML, and VR…), so this was very tempting to me!
Anyways, the idea was to create a simple bracelet/watch-like product, not a smartwatch, not a bracelet, but something in between.
Now, I was the go-to person for him (and many of my other friends) for tech-related questions and advice, so I was motivated to prove myself and my capabilities. All he was pitching was a “smart/connected bracelet” that would simply nudge you when you receive a text message or a phone call on your phone.
Which Wireless Technology to Choose
Now, at that time, I was an embedded software engineer with 7 years of experience, so I had the background and knowledge to at least do the right research into how this idea can be turned into reality…
The first most important aspect that needed research was the answer to the following question:
“What technology or wireless protocol we would have to use to connect the bracelet to the phone?”
I knew smartphones pretty well, so I knew it would have to be either WiFi or Bluetooth.
WiFi is great, but it just didn’t make sense since the “smart bracelet” is more of a personal product that you would probably wear while traveling and in places where you don’t necessarily have access to a WiFi network.
So, logically, it only made sense to determine that Bluetooth was the technology to use.
Getting to know Bluetooth technology
The first thing I did was go to the Bluetooth SIG website: www.bluetooth.com (for kicks, here’s what the Bluetooth SIG website looked like back then in 2012, courtesy of Webarchive! 😯):
The website was pretty dated even for that time (looked like a 90s website). Unfortunately, the technical information was also pretty scarce, especially in terms of beginner-level content and tutorials.
Of course, I was aware of Bluetooth technology being used primarily for streaming audio (headsets, wireless speakers, etc.), but I had no idea there were two “types” of Bluetooth: Bluetooth Classic and Bluetooth Low Energy (aka Bluetooth Smart back then).
So, why am I telling you this story??
Well, even nowadays, there are still not many good resources that help you understand the difference between Bluetooth Classic (BR/EDR) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Lots of the blog posts out there covering this topic seem to cover it at a very high level without enough information to help you fully understand the extent of the difference between the two protocols.
…and that is the goal of this post:
To help you better understand the differences and similarities between these two Bluetooth protocols in the shortest time possible.
I will keep things pretty simple and won’t bore you with all the nitty-gritty details.
I will just present you with the meat of the content in a straight-to-the-point comparison table.
Bluetooth Classic (BR/EDR) vs. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
The first important thing you should know is that the two protocols are incompatible with each other. A Bluetooth Classic device cannot communicate with a Bluetooth Low Energy device.
|Bluetooth Classic||Bluetooth Low Energy|
|Usage||Used for streaming applications such as audio streaming, file transfers, and headsets||Used for sensor data, control of devices, and low-bandwidth applications|
|Data Rate||Has a higher maximum data rate (2.1 Mbps)||The max data rate is at 2 Mbps (as of v 5.3)|
Higher data rate options are currently in the works
|Power Consumption||High power consumption Radio is always on|
Shorter battery life
|Lower power consumption|
More efficient radio usage and on-time
Longer battery life (up to 3-5 years for some applications!)
|RF Channel Spectrum||Operates over 79 RF channels|
(1 MHz wide channels)
|Operates over 40 RF channels|
(2 MHz wide channels)
|Device Discovery||Discovery occurs on 32 channels||Discovery occurs on 3 primary channels, leading to quicker discovery and connections|
|Audio Streaming||The original protocol currently used in most audio streaming applications||The new LE Audio standard will eventually replace Classic Bluetooth audio applications in addition to introducing many other new and more flexible use cases (broadcast audio, hearing aids, etc.)|
Up to around 50 m
|More flexible range configuration|
Up to over 1-kilometer line-of-sight
(with use of long-range mode – introduced in version 5.0)
|Topology||Peer-to-peer (1:1)||Peer-to-peer (1:1)|
Star topology (many:1)
|Profiles/Use Cases||Limited defined profiles and use cases||Wide variety of defined profiles (SIG-adopted)|
Flexibility for custom profiles
|Developer Friendly||Very strict, not flexible especially for custom, proprietary solutions||Very flexible and easy to customize to your own application and solution|
|Technical Resources||Very few technical resources outside of the official Bluetooth Core specification||A lot more technical resources are available outside of the official Bluetooth Core specification.|
📘 “Intro to Bluetooth Low Energy”
|Cost of Developer Tools||Very high cost|
A typical Bluetooth Classic sniffer costs upwards of $20K-$30K!
A simple Bluetooth Low Energy sniffer can cost only $10!
|Smartphone Compatibility||Available on 100% of smartphones||Available on ~100% of smartphones|
|Specification Documents||Defined primarily in the Bluetooth Core specification + Profile specifications + Service specifications||Defined also in the Bluetooth Core specification + Profile specifications + Services specifications + Mesh specifications|
|Future-Proof||Limited updates and limited new features introduced in new versions of the Bluetooth specification||Lots of new updates and new features introduced in new versions of the Bluetooth specification|
|Cost of chipsets||Higher cost|
Down to $1-$2 in some cases!
|Interesting use cases||Not many unique use cases, mostly used for audio streaming, sometimes for file transfers and cable-replacement||Lots of innovative use cases including smart home applications, medical devices, industrial and manufacturing, LE Audio, mesh solutions, personal fitness trackers, and many more!|
Also used as a “positioning radio” for indoor navigation, asset tracking, and proximity applications (e.g. beacons)
In this post, we covered the main differences and similarities between Bluetooth Classic (BR/EDR) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) – I hope you found it helpful!