Bluetooth and WiFi share the same frequency. Both wireless standards operate in the 2.4 GHz band, although WiFi also operates in the 5 GHz and soon 6 GHz bands. However, WiFi reaches speeds of tens and even hundreds of Mbps in 2.4 GHz, but Bluetooth doesn’t. Why?
There are two important factors that make WiFi and Bluetooth differ in range and speed. The first aspect to take into account is the power used to broadcast each signal, and the second is the bandwidth used in each broadcast to send content.
Bluetooth power is usually less than Wi-Fi
Starting with the power, the higher the power with which a signal is emitted, the greater its range. In the case of WiFi, the maximum power is 0.1 W (or 100 mW) for 2.4 GHz networks, and up to 0.2 W (or 200 mW) for 5 GHz networks. in the case of Bluetooth, the speed varies depending on the class. The Bluetooth classes are:
- Class 1: range of up to 100 meters, with an average power of 100 mW
- Class 2: range of up to 20 meters, with an average power of 2.5 mW
- Class 3: range of up to 1 meter, with an average power of 1 mW
- Class 4: range of up to 0.5 meters, with an average power of 0.5 mW
As we can see, a basic Class 1 Bluetooth signal has a range of 100 meters with a power of 100 mW. That distance is similar to what a 2.4 GHz WiFi signal can reach, since it operates using the same 100 mW power. 5 GHz WiFi, having a more limited range due to having a higher frequency, uses twice the power.
The problem for Bluetooth is that it does not always operate at 100 mW of power, since in those cases it would use up a lot of battery. Since Bluetooth 4.0, the Low Energy mode has been integrated, which allows Bluetooth to reduce the power used in the event that, for example, the device is close. In these cases, the power used drops considerably, and with it the range, as we see in the different classes. In return, the battery life increases.
Bandwidth, another Bluetooth problem
However, if at maximum power it consumes the same as WiFi and has the same range, why is it slower? This is where the bandwidth of the channels used comes into play. With WiFi 4, we find channels with 20 MHz of bandwidth, while with WiFi 5 there are channels of up to 80 and 160 MHz. With WiFi 6E, the option of having up to 320 MHz channels opens up. Thus, in addition to being much wider channels, in the future it will even be possible to use several at the same time.
In the case of Bluetooth, the bandwidth is quite limited by the use of 1 or 2 MHz channels. The latest standards have been improving the speed, where 4.0 reaches figures of up to 32 Mbps, and 5.0 and later reach figures of up to 50 Mbps. For this reason, Bluetooth has it very difficult to reach high transfer speeds like those of WiFi.