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Using Wireless Bluetooth Devices

In a nutshell, Bluetooth is a wireless technology that provides wireless communications among computers, printers, mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, and other electronic devices. You can connect as many as eight devices together with Bluetooth, with one device acting as the master device and up to seven slave devices. (This labyrinth of connected devices is called a piconet; you can have up to two piconets.) For example, you can have a desktop PC, a laptop, a smartphone, digital camera, MP3 player, digital video camera, and headphones all linked wirelessly. They can share a high-speed Internet connection, share data, and use a single printer.

The World of Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a wireless specification intended to replace the need to use physical cables between devices. For example, Bluetooth enables you to wirelessly connect keyboards, mice, and printers to your laptop or computer. You also can use Bluetooth to wirelessly connect a mobile phone to your computer or laptop to sync settings, transfer photos or videos, or share contacts. Many other types of Bluetooth devices are available as well, including some that don't even connect to computers or laptops, such as devices used inside automobiles, exercise equipment, and games.

Bluetooth uses radio waves to transmit signals, much like many other types of technologies such as FM radio, television, and Wi-Fi. One primary difference between Bluetooth and other radio wave technologies is the distance between devices. Bluetooth is designed for very small distances; Bluetooth is personal. You set up connections among your devices in a personal area network (called a PAN). Bluetooth is good within about 164 feet (50 meters), whereas other radio wave technologies can reach miles or hundreds of miles.

At the time of this writing, the current Bluetooth version is 5. Bluetooth 5 has low-energy wireless transfers to allow small, low-powered devices to use Bluetooth. Transfer rates for Bluetooth 5 are up to 2 Mbit/s instead of the usual 1 Mbit/s. If you're thinking of setting up a permanent wireless network between computers, however, you may want to stick with the 802.11 standards. But when you're connecting non-computer Bluetooth devices, wirelessly connecting a printer, or occasionally transferring files between computers, Bluetooth can't be beat.

The following are some Bluetooth buzzwords and concepts that you'll encounter in this section, as well as in the instructions that come with Bluetooth devices:

  • Discovery:
    A Bluetooth device finds other Bluetooth devices to which it can connect through a process called discovery. To prevent Bluetooth devices from connecting at random, discovery is usually turned off by default on a Bluetooth device. You manually turn on discovery when you're ready for that device to be discovered. After a device has been discovered, you can turn discovery off.
  • Discoverable:
    A discoverable (or visible) Bluetooth device is one that has discovery turned on, so other Bluetooth devices within range can see and connect to the device.
  • Pairing:
    After two or more Bluetooth devices have discovered one another and have been paired (connected), you can turn off their discovery features. The devices will forever be able to connect to one another, and unauthorized foreign devices will not be able to discover and hack into the paired devices.
  • Encryption:
    A process by which transferred data is encoded to make it unreadable to any unauthorized device that picks up a signal from the device. Bluetooth offers powerful 128-bit data encryption to secure the content of all transferred data.
  • Passkey:
    Similar to a password; only devices that share a passkey can communicate with one another. This is another means of preventing unauthorized access to data transmitted across Bluetooth radio waves.
  • Bluejacking:
    A process by which one user sends a picture or message to an unsuspecting person's Bluetooth device.

A non-computer gadget such as a smartphone, MP3 player, or electronic pedometer that supports Bluetooth is called a Bluetooth device. A standard desktop PC or laptop computer usually isn't a Bluetooth device, although many laptops include built-in Bluetooth capabilities. As a rule, turning your PC or laptop into a Bluetooth device is easy. You simply plug a Bluetooth USB adapter - a tiny device about the size of your thumbnail - into any available USB port, and presto, your computer is a Bluetooth device. Making your computer into a Bluetooth device doesn't limit it in any way. Bluetooth extends the capabilities of your computer so that you can do things such as the following:

  • Connect a Bluetooth mouse, keyboard, or other pointing device.
  • Use the Devices applet in the Settings area to add a Bluetooth device.
  • Use the Add Printer Wizard to use a Bluetooth printer wirelessly.
  • Use a Bluetooth-enabled phone or dial-up device as a modem.
  • Transfer files between Bluetooth-ready computers or devices by using Bluetooth.
  • Join an ad hoc PAN of Bluetooth-connected devices (an ad hoc network is an informal network, where devices connect and disconnect on an as-needed basis, without the need for a central hub or base station).

When you install a Bluetooth adapter on your PC or laptop, you also install radio drivers. Windows 10 comes with many radio drivers preinstalled.

If a built-in radio driver doesn't work with your device, install the drivers that came with the device per the device manufacturer's instructions.