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2nd August 2021

Bluetooth Technology: Pros, Cons and Alternatives 

Bluetooth is everywhere. Everyone has heard of Bluetooth technology, and they really like it. Which makes the technology an attractive consideration for new product designs. Bluetooth will likely be the first option that springs to mind when you’re designing a product that needs to communicate with something else.

Using Bluetooth can work well for product development but before you dive in there’s a few things you should know. To effectively weigh up the benefits and other considerations. 

What is Bluetooth? 

Bluetooth is a wireless RF technology used for sending and receiving data over short distances. It is commonly used to pair devices and is popular for use within in-car entertainment systems, headphones and other communication applications. Bluetooth uses a special standard protocol that enables different manufacturers to produce products that can communicate easily with other Bluetooth products. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a variant of this which is used in low power devices and can be used for advertising. For example, broadcasting to your phone as you walk past a shop. 

Bluetooth Pros and Cons

Pros of using Bluetooth technology for product design

Bluetooth is known for its ease of use. A trusted technology that pairs easily with other devices with no fuss. You can use this as an effective marketing tool to sell your products. Here are some of the benefits: 

Known technology

It’s tried and tested leaving far less room for things to go wrong. 

Recognised Brand

People know and trust the Bluetooth brand, so it acts as a real selling point when advertising your new products.

Ease of use

It’s very easy to use. This means customers aren’t left frustrated by endless instructions. Clients will understand how to use this feature with little or no training required. As a result they are more likely to leave positive reviews as a result. 

Easy to connect

People can pair easily with other devices. 

No passwords 

People love things that require minimum effort. For example not needing to use passwords can be a major plus. What’s more it offers the option to create a password if you are worried about security. 

A great marketing tool 

If you are a start-up and your brand is not well known, then riding off the back of Bluetooth’s credibility can help your brand credibility. Integrating the technology with your product can help new customers get past that initial trust barrier.  

Reliable connection within a certain distance 

Bluetooth tends to be reliable within a short distance. 

Great for cars 

Bluetooth is a great way to stream music and control songs directly without touching your phone in many vehicles. 

Cons of Bluetooth technology 

Often the benefits will outweigh these costs for the right product. However before you dive in consider the following. 

Bluetooth is not always the best option if distance is involved. In addition using the technology is not cheap, with licencing, membership and compliance testing to consider.

Distance is a problem 

Any distance over 5m-10m will see Bluetooth technology starting to struggle or start cutting out. Obstructions such as walls, people and other factors can affect the exact distance. If the signal is going through your own body, for example if the phone is in the left-hand pocket and the ear-piece is in the right-hand ear, this can cause problems too. 

Licencing 

Annual membership, if you choose to use it, does not come cheap. Costing several thousand pounds annually. Forecasting and budgeting ahead is essential to ensure you are getting the right ROI from using Bluetooth technology.

More on this can be found in the cost section of this article. 

Lifetime membership costs

If you opt for annual membership then this means you need to pay this every year whilst your product is on the market. 

Compliance testing

If you choose a discreet module the cost of compliance is not fixed. This means you leave a huge unknown cost until late on in development. This can run from several thousand pounds, even if you choose a fully certified module, through to many ten’s of thousands potentially for discreet modules. 

What are the costs of using Bluetooth in your product? 

Costs of membership 

If you want to use Bluetooth as part of your product then you must join the Bluetooth SiG (Special Interest Group). As Bluetooth can be a major selling point you’ll want to shout about it. There are two membership options, the Adoptor one (which, at time of writing, comes with no annual membership fee) and the associate membership which costs $7,500 annually for companies under <$100M USD annual revenue a year and $35,000 for companies whose annual revenue is over $100M USD.  

Regardless of the free or paid membership there is a further declaration fee. The Adoptor one is currently $8,000 USD and the associate one is $4,000 USD.  

Bear in mind that if you opt for the membership option then you are tied into paying that membership fee for the duration of time that your product is on the market so you need to plan for this.  

Different modules and the certification cost considerations 

In addition, there are different types of Bluetooth module and you need to register with each group, there are discreet and fully certified options with their own pros and cons and effects on the cost of compliance testing. 

Bluetooth Alternatives

Here are some of the options you can use as an alternative to Bluetooth as part of your electronic product development. The best one for your team will completely depend on what you are looking to achieve and the correct answer for you may still be Bluetooth technology. Speak to our team if you need extra support choosing the right communications technology for you. 

Wi-Fi 

Wi-Fi can be a cheaper way to communicate with other products but it will need a way to connect, likely a SIC receiver. The downside to Wi-Fi is it requires a password whereas Bluetooth is well known for pairing with other devices, often seamlessly. For Wi-Fi there may be licencing and other considerations. Wi-Fi is also not a good option for anything that could be used in a blackspot area or in a car as it will cut out continuously.  

Using a Sim

This uses a mobile network. This can come with ongoing contract charges that use data. Sims enable a product with a mobile radio module to connect to one (or more) of the mobile data providers (for example Vodaphone, O2 and many others). There are various mobile radio modules available commercially. 

Radio Frequency (RF) 

RF covers all radio transmissions, NFC (usually very short range) is a small subset of that. There are various radio frequencies that can be used without NFC and without licensing. The 433 MHz and 868 MHz bands tend to be known collectively as ISM bands. 2.4 GHz, 5GHz are also ISM bands (WiFi, wireless keyboards & mice etc.) Range depends on band, but this can be many kilometres. Its efficiency will depend largely on the sort of information you’ll want to transmit. NFC works like a contactless bank card where you can use a tap sign to get two devices to talk to each other, another example is an alarm fob to enter a building. This has also been used in telehealth to monitor conditions such as diabetes using a sensor on an arm patch. You may need to consider how much data is needed for low power design (pay load). The more data you use the more power will be consumed (cost of transmitting vs receiving) and there are also compliance considerations for this too (fair usage).  

Any radio communication will have to pass RED/EMC certification to ensure that it does not interfere with other users on the radio frequency. 

HDMI ports

HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. To have HDMI written on your product this requires lots of licencing but there are cheaper options available. 

 

Should I use Bluetooth or another form of communications technology? 

Bluetooth can be a great option for teams looking to boost their brand and create a seamless experience for their users over short distances. The best advice is to not over engineer your products. Most applications don’t need to be complex. It’s important to look at the effects of using Bluetooth will have on your profitability of your product, both in the short and long term, to weigh up if it is right for your development plan. 

If you are struggling to decide which technology is best for your product, get advice on whether Bluetooth or an alternative might work better for you with a discovery call with our sales manager Poppy Sinclair.  

Book a discovery call with us to talk things through. 

Article Authorship – This article was written with the knowledge of Poppy Sinclair sales manager, who regularly speaks with product development teams about communications technology with input from marketing and the engineering team. 

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