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FAQ# 2313: What is the difference between classic Bluetooth (BT) and Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE/BLE/Bluetooth 4.0)?

Question

What is the difference between classic Bluetooth (BT) and Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE/BLE/Bluetooth 4.0)?

Answer

It's easy to assume that with Bluetooth in the name the connections between devices and accessories would be the same across the board. That is not true in the case of BT vs. BLE.

While Bluetooth has become a technology that most of us use on a daily basis, sometimes without even realizing it. It connects our headphones to our mobile devices, our phones to our cars, and in terms of POS equipment, it connects printers, scanners, and other sorts of usable devices to make work easier and get rid of pesky cords. With the common knowledge surrounding standard Bluetooth usage, getting an understanding of the differences in BLE is key.

Simply put, Bluetooth Low Energy does what the name implies: it's a version of BT that works on lower energy levels and keeps your devices connected when you need them, but not all the time so as to drain battery life. This version will wake the device only when it's needed to be used, allowing both connection and device to sleep and conserve energy while not actively in use. It also has a much shorter range of connectivity. When all environmental considerations are taken out, a standard Bluetooth radio will allow connection between devices up to around 320 ft (100m), whereas BLE connections will really only reach around 82 ft (25m).
The types of connections vary with each version of BT as well. Specifically, BLE has a much more limited amount of devices that can use it to communicate and send data and commands. When used in Zebra brand devices, for example, Zebra gives this disclaimer:
"It is recommended that only configuration functions should be performed over a BLE connection. Printer configuration functions via BLE can be performed using Zebra's Printer Setup for Android." And that, "BLE-only printers can only communicate with hand-held devices supporting BLE."

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