Bluetooth LogoI’ve been playing with Bluetooth (BT) off and on for the past year or so, but it wasn’t until I purchased the Sony Ericsson T608 BT mobile phone that I really began to use BT technology on a more regular and meaningful way. I’ve learned a little bit as I’ve explored how to do things with Bluetooth and I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned in the hopes of demystifying the technology. Once you’ve learned some of the basics, it’s really quite easy to use and in some respects, becomes almost transparent.

What IS Bluetooth?
Conceived by Ericsson, Bluetooth technology is the result of the joint achievements of nine leading companies including Motorola, Nokia, Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Toshiba, 3Com, Lucent and Microsoft. Ericsson labeled the technology “Bluetooth” after Harald I Bluetooth, the King of Denmark between 940 and 985 AD. They felt this name was appropriate because Kind Harald was remembered for uniting the various separate clans of Denmark and Norway. Similarly, the Bluetooth wireless technology seeks similar goals – to unite separate and various devices wirelessly. The future vision of the technology is that via Bluetooth, your computer, or handheld could “talk” to a vending machine, a toaster, or even the mundane mobile phone.

After several years of hype, Bluetooth products are finally making some headway in the US market. Adapters for your PC are as inexpensive as $30 and BT mobile phones have finally come stateside. Not quite the juggernaut that was promised, BT is gaining ground and is still a viable technology even though other standards have gained more ground, such as 802.11b

How To Win Friends And Influence Technology
Ok, so now that we know what Bluetooth is, how can we use it? The central theme of using Bluetooth, is something called “paring”. In order for two BT devices to be able to talk to each other, they first have to be introduced to each other first. You can think of this as introducing two friends that haven’t met each other yet. “Mobile phone, I’d like you to meet my other good friend Mr. headset.” Although my analogy may sound a little silly, but my point is that it’s all very simple if you think of it in these basic terms.

Let’s use for our example that we have a Bluetooth mobile phone and a Bluetooth wireless headset. What BT allows us to do is pair these two devices and then be able to use a wireless headset with our mobile phone. If you’ve ever used a regular headset then you know how cumbersome it can be sometimes to be tethered to your mobile phone. A BT headset “cuts the cord” and allows us to move independently of our phone. It’s the primary reason most people go with a BT phone, so it seems like the most common scenario to use for our example.

Step One – Discovery Mode
The first step is to have one device “discover” another. This is the introduction where the two devices try and “see” each other. Most BT devices have “discovery mode” turned off by default. The reason is simple, they want to save on battery life. Having your BT device always available for searching takes some power, so by having it off you’re extending your battery life. So I set the headset into “Discovery Mode” by pressing the main power button until the blue LED stayed on.Only one of the two devices that you’re paring needs to be discoverable, so with the phone at the ready, this step is done.

Step Two – The Passphrase
Next, I use the mobile phone to try and “discover” the headset. Navigating the mobile phone menus, I enable this option and sure enough my mobile phone “sees” the headset. After selecting the headset as the device that I’d like to pair with, asks me to enter the passphrase. According to the instructions on the BT headset, it’s “0000”. I enter those numbers on my phone, press the “OK” button and the pairing is made. The last step is prompted by my phone when it asks if I want to save the paring. I say yes because I don’t want to have to go through this routine every time I use my headset.

So in these two steps, we’ve completed the pairing process and the two devices are now “friends” and should work together from now on with little fuss. Pretty easy isn’t it?

More On The Passphrase
Now all this sounds rather simple, which it is, but it was made even more simple because the headset did some of the work for us. Since there’s no display on the headset, there’s no method of input or monitoring on the headset itself. The headset has been programmed to pair in this one manner, so it’s simplified the process for us, but what if we wanted to pair a computer or a handheld with our phone?

With those devices, you have a method of input (keyboard/stylus) as well as a display, so you’re more involved with the pairing process. Most of the dialog boxes and prompts are fairly straightforward, so all you do is tap/type your way through them. However, there is one concept that is somewhat confusing and that’s the passphrase. With the headset, our passphrase was set for us, but if you’re pairing a handheld with your phone, you simply make it up, because there is no pre-determined passphrase.

So let’s say that we were pairing a pa1m0ne Tungsten T3 with our mobile phone. If we initiate the paring from the T3, we see the mobile phone and then we’re prompted for a passphrase. We simply make up a passphrase and let’s say we decide to use “123”. Once we enter the passphrase on the handheld, we’ll then receive a prompt on the mobile phone to enter the passphrase again. We input “123” on the mobile phone and from there the pairing is done and the process is complete. It’s a very simple procedure, even with a more complex BT device, but many a paring has died in its tracks simply because they didn’t know that you make up your own passphrase. 😛

Why Do We Need A Passphrase?
Given that the passphrase is made up by the user, you may be wondering why this step is even needed? You’re holding both devices so why not just skip this step? Well, in a word – security. In the examples that we’ve used, we’ve been the owners of the two devices attempting to pair, but what if you’re not? What if you wanted to connect your handheld with your friends handheld via BT. Wouldn’t you want to approve the process in some way? You bet you would! The passphrase gives you a method in which to do just that. Without it, people could pair to any of your BT devices and use them as they saw fit.

Set It And Forget It
Hopefully, I haven’t gone too deep into the weeds on the subject of Bluetooth and you’ve found this as simple as it really is. Paring BT devices is a very straightforward and standardized process. Once you’ve paired one device, you can pair just about any set of devices. The best part is that once you’ve saved your parings, they are there whenever you need them. So it’s a one step setup process, that once completed, you can use the immortal words of Ron Popiel and “set it and forget it.”

What’s also great is that you can use your BT devices in many different configurations. For example, I could pair my mobile phone with my BT enabled laptop and use it as my modem when I’m on the road. In this scenario, my phone could be used by my laptop, or my headset as needed and that’s really the best part. Once your parings are made, BT really becomes transparent. You don’t really contemplate what you’re doing any longer, you’re simply doing what you need to do. Anytime technology can fade into the background and get out of the way of itself, I have to give it high marks. Bluetooth may not be perfect, but close enough for me.