With wider coverage, faster speeds, and connection to multiple simultaneous devices, Bluetooth wireless technology has come a long way from its inception in the late 90s.
With the ever-increasing needs of audiophiles, more recent Bluetooth versions like Bluetooth 5.2 focus on extracting greater transfer speed while consuming lower amounts of power. And you can be sure that this optimization trend will continue considering the soaring demand for wearable devices.
Bluetooth combines wireless connectivity with high-speed communication between the host and client devices to offer an efficient peer-to-peer medium. So, you won’t have to deal with issues like messy cables, incompatible ports, or complex routers to transfer data back and forth between compatible devices.
It is common to find Bluetooth on all modern phones and laptops as it reduces the dependence on wired communication channels and enhances mobility. In fact, several modern desktop motherboards include Bluetooth, allowing you to connect wireless multimedia speakers or headphones.
Over the years, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (Bluetooth SIG), a consortium of Bluetooth device manufacturers with over 30,000 members, has released various versions of Bluetooth with incremental enhancements.
While several online resources list these enhancements using technical jargon, few explain what these mean to the end user. We’ll explain each, starting from Bluetooth 5, the most significant Bluetooth iteration.
Table of Contents
- Bluetooth 5.0 or Bluetooth 5
- Bluetooth 5.1
- Bluetooth 5.2
- Bluetooth 5.3
- Conclusion: What Bluetooth version is best for you?
Bluetooth 5.0 or Bluetooth 5
The most noticeable improvements in Bluetooth 5 were the higher transmission bandwidth and more extended range, the former doubled from 1Mbps to 2Mbps, and the latter quadrupled to 240 meters.
Naturally, these numbers were generated in test laboratories, meaning real-world applications would differ. Nevertheless, the increased bandwidth and range meant enhanced audio quality and greater mobility.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
The Bluetooth SIG introduced Bluetooth Low Energy technology with an earlier version of Bluetooth, but its applications were limited to fitness trackers, which need limited resources. It was Bluetooth 5, which brought BLE to the fore, allowing audiophiles to use wireless headphones on a platform that didn’t drain their device’s battery. Consequently, this meant long hours listening to your music without worrying about finding a wall outlet to charge your Bluetooth device.
Bluetooth 5 also brought Dual Audio, a feature that allowed you to connect to two Bluetooth devices simultaneously, elevating the audio experience. Using Dual Audio on one device, you can stream distinct audio inputs to two speakers for two different listeners. So, you and your friends can pair a couple of headphones to the same phone and listen to different audio streams without burdening the battery of either device.
Bluetooth 5.0 was great, but it had its limitations. Using Bluetooth 5.0, your devices knew how far they were from each other but weren’t smart enough to figure out the direction.
Bluetooth 5.1 enabled the devices to determine the direction and the distance between the communicating devices. As a result, the Bluetooth connection between devices became more stable, and there was a noticeable reduction in latency and audio lag.
Angle-of-Arrival (AoA) and Angle-of-Departure (AoD)
This iteration of Bluetooth employed several antennas, which allowed the device to measure the Angle-of-Arrival (AoA) and Angle-of-Departure (AoD). These angles play a significant role in determining the precise location of Bluetooth-enabled devices within a few centimeters.
Bluetooth 5.1 also made use of GATT caching for the faster pairing of Bluetooth devices by reducing the information shared in establishing the connection. It also streamlined the pairing process by using an Advertising Channel Index feature.
Advertising Channel Index
Advertising Channel Index allows devices like your portable Bluetooth speaker to fixate on a channel each time you connect it to an audio source. Earlier versions of Bluetooth would scan different channels causing interruptions with occupied channels. Bluetooth 5.1 avoids these problems by simplifying the pairing process.
Bluetooth 5.2 saw several improvements over the previous version aiming to optimize Bluetooth Low Energy. And because BLE wasn’t anything new, none of the changes were significant enough to warrant a Bluetooth 6.0 version moniker.
Essentially, Bluetooth 5.2 focused on delivering greater bandwidths while consuming lesser power during transmission, the original mandate of BLE. It combined this with the ability to support multiple simultaneous connections to allow you to multitask efficiently.
The Bluetooth 5.2 iteration achieved this by offering the following features.
Enhanced Attribute Protocols (EATT)
EATT is a protocol that allows concurrent attribute transactions over sequential ones. Simply put, transmission operations become faster when you don’t have to wait for previous operations to vacate resources.
LE Audio uses a Low Complexity Communication Code (LC3) that compresses the audio transmission to a fraction of the bandwidth. LE Audio also allows connecting multiple receivers to one sender and vice versa. Thus, you get simultaneously connected devices that require lower bandwidth.
Isochronous channels employ a mechanism to transport data packets from one source to multiple receivers. It ensures that the receivers receive and renders the data in a synchronized manner.
LE Power Control
LE Power Control allows the transmitter to alter the signal’s power based on the receiver’s receiving capabilities. It does this on-the-fly for better control to ensure efficient transmissions.
As with Bluetooth 5.2, Bluetooth 5.3 didn’t see any significant improvements over previous versions. The changes proposed under the new version can, at best, be described as minor refinements of existing specifications and features. These changes focus on improving efficiency and enhancing the security of Bluetooth connections.
Connection sub-rating is a mechanism that allows the Bluetooth device to vary its operational cycle based on the situation. For instance, your smartwatch fitness tracker may record your activity instantaneously but sync it with the mobile app once every few minutes. But you’ll need real-time operations when you want to stream music from your smartwatch to your true wireless earphones. This is possible using the dynamic nature of connection sub-rating.
Periodic Advertisement Interval
Simply put, Periodic Advertisement Interval helps removes transmission redundancies so that the transmitter and receiver won’t have to deal with duplicate data packets. Further, by avoiding duplicity, both Bluetooth devices (sender and receiver) consume lesser energy.
Channel Classification Enhancement
Although not new, it is an enhancement of the channel classification mechanism that helps prevent one data packet from interfering with another. Hence, you get a more reliable communication line.
Encryption Key Size Control Enhancement
For added security, Bluetooth 5.3 enables devices to send and receive encrypted data. The complexity of any encryption depends on its key size, and Bluetooth 5.3 allows devices to fixate on the minimum key size to avoid unnecessary traffic of data packets.
Conclusion: What Bluetooth version is best for you?
Bluetooth v.5.0 was a significant advancement over the earlier version. It focused on transmission efficiency resulting in lower power consumption and higher bandwidth.
All subsequent versions up to Bluetooth v.5.3 have only seen varying degrees of enhancements, with the current version (Bluetooth v.5.3) not offering any significant changes. This could be one of the reasons why even after its launch in June 2021, there are only so many devices on the market that offer Bluetooth v.5.3.
Undoubtedly, though older, Bluetooth v.5.2 is the most popular Bluetooth version on the market, and it’s common to find most Bluetooth-enabled devices using it.