Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are the two dominant forms of wireless communication, mainly in home environments. Everything from video game consoles to computers and even smart devices use one or the other to send and receive data through radio waves.
Some devices, such as modern laptops, are equipped with the hardware for both types of connections, but depending on the use case, both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have their own unique advantages and limitations.
In this article we’ll discuss the differences between Bluetooth and WiFi, examine some pros and cons of each technology etc.
Main Differences Between Bluetooth and WiFi
|Sorter distance (approx. 30 ft, 10m)||Longer distance (approx. 150ft or 45m)|
|Lower data transmission rate (it can reach around 25Mbps max)||Higher data transmission rate (it can reach around 600Mbps or even higher)|
|Lower power consumption||Higher power consumption|
|Mainly used for device-to-device connections (one to one)||Mainly used for creating WLAN (Wireless LAN) for connecting multiple clients to a WiFi router.|
|Uses 2.4 GHz frequency band||Uses 2.4 GHz or 5GHz frequency bands|
|Governed by “Bluetooth Special Interest Group”||Governed by standards of IEEE 802.11ac, 802.11ax|
What is Bluetooth?
Bluetooth is a radio-based protocol for sending information and connecting devices that are physically in close proximity to each other.
It allows users to link various hardware without using cables or physical connections.
Much like many Wi-Fi connections, Bluetooth uses the radio waves in the 2.4GHz band to send data over the air.
In order to connect two devices to each other through Bluetooth, each device will need to be equipped with the physical Bluetooth hardware, including a small antenna, as well as have the software or drivers to establish a secure connection.
Some Pros and Cons of Bluetooth
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi each have their advantages, so if your device is equipped with both or you’re making a decision between which type of connection to make, you should consider the following benefits of using Bluetooth.
Bluetooth is arguably easier to use, since it doesn’t always require a password to be entered on your device.
This is often the case with Bluetooth accessories, like computer or gaming headsets.
Bluetooth is also more secure in some settings, since it doesn’t require Local Area Network (LAN) access, users can connect Bluetooth devices in public network settings without exposing the Bluetooth devices to the Internet or a public LAN.
Bluetooth also has the advantage of using less power than Wi-Fi. This not only makes it more efficient and affordable at a large scale, but it also allows for less battery drainage and smaller physical chips, which is helpful for small carry-on devices like watches and hearing aids.
There are also several scenarios where you wouldn’t want to use Bluetooth, however. For example, Bluetooth does not have the long reach that Wi-Fi has, topping out at only about 33 meters, or roughly 100 feet.
Bluetooth also can be less secure in some settings than Wi-Fi since its encryption method is not as complex as what you’d find on a Wi-Fi connection.
The low data transfer speed achieved using Bluetooth is also a limiting factor. It can be used to connect for example two mobile devices to transfer data between them, but it is not suitable for high-speed internet connectivity.
What is Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi is a popular protocol for connecting devices to the Internet through a local wireless network.
Wi-Fi employees a wireless transmitter, usually a router, to broadcast a radio signal across small areas, and also wireless clients that can connect to the transmitting device (the router).
The reach of a Wi-Fi signal is larger than that of Bluetooth, often traveling hundreds of feet. Wi-Fi is found in almost every modern computing device, and even many appliances.
Wi-Fi is mostly used for connecting devices in a single building or proximity to the Internet, whereas Bluetooth typically connects devices to each other, regardless of any Internet connectivity.
While Wi-Fi can transmit on the 2.4GHz waves like Bluetooth, it can also use the 5GHz frequency, and transmits using more power. This allows Wi-Fi to reach higher data rate speeds than Bluetooth.
Some Pros and Cons of Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi offers several advantages over other forms of wireless connection such as Bluetooth.
Not only can Wi-Fi reach further distances, it’s also capable of higher data transmission rates.
While Bluetooth is usually capable of transmitting data at speeds of maximum 25 Mbps, Wi-Fi can transmit data at speeds of 600 Mbps (or even at Gigabit speeds using features like 2×2 or 4×4 MIMO etc), an order of magnitude higher than Bluetooth.
This makes Wi-Fi ideal for connecting computers to each other or the Internet to play games, watch movies, and use complex applications with live streaming features.
Another benefit of using Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth is the increased security, Wi-Fi has more options for encryption than Bluetooth, which is usually limited to 128-bit standard encryption models.
Wi-Fi can be configured to have complex passwords and higher bit encryption technologies (like WPA3) than Bluetooth, which is not usually configurable for end users.
Wi-Fi can also be used to connect multiple devices at once, whereas Bluetooth channels can only hold one distal connection at a time.
This makes connecting printers and other peripherals easier with Bluetooth but gives Wi-Fi the advantage when it comes to scenarios where network discoverability and device sharing is important.
Using Wi-Fi does involve more configuration than Bluetooth, so many users will find the extra steps to be a disadvantage for the protocol.
This is because of the password and network factors involved in pairing devices over each type of connection.
Another disadvantage Wi-Fi presents when compared to Bluetooth is that is uses more power, meaning your batteries with drain at a rate of about 10 times faster when using Wi-fi compared to Bluetooth. This has real world implications for battery life in cell phones and headsets.
Wi-Fi also usually requires a software interface, since passwords are involved, whereas Bluetooth can often be paired using a simple button with automated settings built into a devices chip.
This makes Wi-Fi a less desirable platform for small, single-use devices like sensors and portable job-site speakers
Which is Better, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth?
Depending on the scenario, either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth may each offer a unique advantage for your connection.
Generally, if you’re connecting a device to the Internet, you’ll certainly want to use Wi-Fi, since it can transmit large amounts of data over longer distances.
Bluetooth is often better for connecting accessories like controllers, headsets, and keyboards to another device, like a gaming console or computer.
Bluetooth does not have the range that Wi-Fi has, so if you have a stationary device that offers both types of connections, such as a smart refrigerator or thermostat, you’ll need to choose the protocol that works best for your home, factoring in physical distance and the need for Internet connectivity.
Both types of connections are secure and encrypted, with Bluetooth having an advantage for quick and easy local device pairing, and Wi-Fi coming in on top for Internet connections, complex local networking, and large data transmission like streaming shows, work applications, or video games.