Bluetooth vs. Bluetooth Low Energy: What’s the Difference? [2022 Update]

Last Updated on April 28, 2022 by Mohammad Afaneh

First, a Short Story…

Before I dive into the meat of the topic (Bluetooth Low Energy vs. Bluetooth Classic), I’d like to tell you a little story…

A few years ago (circa 2012), a friend of mine came to me with an idea that he wanted to partner with me on developing.

At that time, the “Internet of Things (IoT)” term was just picking up and becoming a hot topic. Venture Capitalists (VCs) were dumping loads of money into any startup that threw around the term “IoT” in their offering (kind of like how it is these days with AI, ML, and VR…), so this was very tempting to me!

Anyways, the idea was to create a simple bracelet/watch-like product, not a smartwatch, not a bracelet, but something in between.

Now, I was the go-to person for him (and many of my other friends) for tech-related questions and advice, so I was motivated to prove myself and my capabilities. All he was pitching was a “smart/connected bracelet” that would simply nudge you when you receive a text message or a phone call on your phone.

Which Wireless Technology to Choose

Now, at that time, I was an embedded software engineer with 7 years of experience, so I had the background and knowledge to at least do the right research into how this idea can be turned into reality…

The first most important aspect that needed research was the answer to the following question:

“What technology or wireless protocol we would have to use to connect the bracelet to the phone?”

I knew smartphones pretty well, so I knew it would have to be either WiFi or Bluetooth.

WiFi is great, but it just didn’t make sense since the “smart bracelet” is more of a personal product that you would probably wear while traveling and in places where you don’t necessarily have access to a WiFi network.

So, logically, it only made sense to determine that Bluetooth was the technology to use.

Getting to know Bluetooth technology

The first thing I did was go to the Bluetooth SIG website: www.bluetooth.com (for kicks, here’s what the Bluetooth SIG website looked like back then in 2012, courtesy of Webarchive! 😯):

Bluetooth.com website back in 2012
Bluetooth.com back in 2012

The website was pretty dated even for that time (looked like a 90s website). Unfortunately, the technical information was also pretty scarce, especially in terms of beginner-level content and tutorials.

Of course, I was aware of Bluetooth technology being used primarily for streaming audio (headsets, wireless speakers, etc.), but I had no idea there were two “types” of Bluetooth: Bluetooth Classic and Bluetooth Low Energy (aka Bluetooth Smart back then).

So, why am I telling you this story??

Well, even nowadays, there are still not many good resources that help you understand the difference between Bluetooth Classic (BR/EDR) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Lots of the blog posts out there covering this topic seem to cover it at a very high level without enough information to help you fully understand the extent of the difference between the two protocols.

…and that is the goal of this post:

To help you better understand the differences and similarities between these two Bluetooth protocols in the shortest time possible.

I will keep things pretty simple and won’t bore you with all the nitty-gritty details.

I will just present you with the meat of the content in a straight-to-the-point comparison table.

Bluetooth Classic (BR/EDR) vs. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

The first important thing you should know is that the two protocols are incompatible with each other. A Bluetooth Classic device cannot communicate with a Bluetooth Low Energy device.

 Bluetooth ClassicBluetooth Low Energy
UsageUsed for streaming applications such as audio streaming, file transfers, and headsetsUsed for sensor data, control of devices, and low-bandwidth applications
Data RateHas a higher maximum data rate (2.1 Mbps)The max data rate is at 2 Mbps (as of v 5.3)
Higher data rate options are currently in the works
Power ConsumptionHigh power consumption Radio is always on
Shorter battery life
Lower power consumption
More efficient radio usage and on-time
Longer battery life (up to 3-5 years for some applications!)
RF Channel SpectrumOperates over 79 RF channels
(1 MHz wide channels)
Operates over 40 RF channels
(2 MHz wide channels)
Device DiscoveryDiscovery occurs on 32 channelsDiscovery occurs on 3 primary channels, leading to quicker discovery and connections
Audio StreamingThe original protocol currently used in most audio streaming applicationsThe new LE Audio standard will eventually replace Classic Bluetooth audio applications in addition to introducing many other new and more flexible use cases (broadcast audio, hearing aids, etc.)
RangeLimited range
Up to around 50 m
More flexible range configuration
Up to over 1-kilometer line-of-sight
(with use of long-range mode – introduced in version 5.0)
TopologyPeer-to-peer (1:1)Peer-to-peer (1:1)
Star topology (many:1)
Broadcast (1:many)
Mesh (many:many)
Profiles/Use CasesLimited defined profiles and use casesWide variety of defined profiles (SIG-adopted)
Flexibility for custom profiles
Developer FriendlyVery strict, not flexible especially for custom, proprietary solutionsVery flexible and easy to customize to your own application and solution
Technical ResourcesVery few technical resources outside of the official Bluetooth Core specificationA lot more technical resources are available outside of the official Bluetooth Core specification.
Great example:
📘 “Intro to Bluetooth Low Energy”
Cost of Developer ToolsVery high cost
A typical Bluetooth Classic sniffer costs upwards of $20K-$30K!
Low-cost tools
A simple Bluetooth Low Energy sniffer can cost only $10!
Smartphone CompatibilityAvailable on 100% of smartphonesAvailable on ~100% of smartphones
Specification DocumentsDefined primarily in the Bluetooth Core specification + Profile specifications + Service specificationsDefined also in the Bluetooth Core specification + Profile specifications + Services specifications + Mesh specifications
Future-ProofLimited updates and limited new features introduced in new versions of the Bluetooth specificationLots of new updates and new features introduced in new versions of the Bluetooth specification
Cost of chipsetsHigher cost
> $10
Lower cost
< $10
Down to $1-$2 in some cases!
Interesting use casesNot many unique use cases, mostly used for audio streaming, sometimes for file transfers and cable-replacementLots of innovative use cases including smart home applications, medical devices, industrial and manufacturing, LE Audio, mesh solutions, personal fitness trackers, and many more!
Also used as a “positioning radio” for indoor navigation, asset tracking, and proximity applications (e.g. beacons)
Bluetooth Classic (BR/EDR) vs. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

Summary

In this post, we covered the main differences and similarities between Bluetooth Classic (BR/EDR) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) – I really hope you found it helpful!

FREE Resource

Be sure to download my FREE “Intro to Bluetooth Low Energy” (a $39 value) which will help you learn the core basics of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) in a single weekend!