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How Does Bluetooth Work? A Guide to Pairing Wireless Devices

BY: Editors | Jun 22, 2017

Maybe you've just bought a brand-new wireless speaker. Or maybe you want to hit the treadmill without being annoyed by a headphone cable bobbing up and down the entire time. Or perhaps you need to get a conference call routed to something everyone can hear and there's no cable in sight. Whatever the case, you'll need to use Bluetooth technology, which brings up a simple but sometimes overlooked question: how does Bluetooth work? Keep reading to find out.

How does Bluetooth work?

In the simplest terms, Bluetooth connects two or more devices without using wires. Most often, the purpose is to play audio stored on one device through the speakers on another. How does it pull off this magic? A slick combination of microchips, radio waves, and a sort of robot-only language all help make it happen. For specifics on how exactly Bluetooth technology functions, check out this short video:

How do you pair Bluetooth devices?

This is the part where things can get a little tricky, but only in that there's not one cover-all answer. While Bluetooth is a universal technology, not every company manufacturers Bluetooth-enabled electronics to be operated or paired in the same exact way. Depending on the brand of the devices you're dealing with and the type of the devices themselves, the steps you'll take to pair them will vary.

The good news is that Bluetooth pairing is generally very easy. When setting up any two devices—no matter the brand or device type—to sync with one another via Bluetooth, you'll need to activate Bluetooth on each one. Take a look at the below hypothetical step-by-step process to get a better feel for how exactly this works. For simplicity's sake, we'll be pairing an iPhone with a run-of-the-mill Bluetooth speaker in the example.

  1. Jump into your iPhone's settings menu and hit "Bluetooth." Turn the slider so that it's on and keep this page open (you'll need to go back to it in a minute).

  2. Activate Bluetooth on the speaker. Most often, there will be a button with the Bluetooth symbol on it that you'll have to push or hold down. As we said earlier, this varies from product to product, but it's usually pretty obvious (when in doubt, always consult your product's user manual).

  3. Go back to your iPhone's Bluetooth-settings menu. The device should now be listed under "My Devices." Give the speaker's listing a tap, and after a few seconds, you should be good to go.

Troubleshooting Common Bluetooth Hiccups

My servant device isn't showing up on my master device's Bluetooth menu.

  • It's possible the master device (the one from which music or data will be streamed) isn't set in discovery mode, which is what makes it visible to the other Bluetooth device you're trying to stream to (AKA the servant device). Once you toggle Bluetooth to "on" on the master device, it should automatically go into discovery mode. Go back and double check to make sure it is.

My streamed audio is weak, crackly, or experiencing other feedback.

  • The connection range might be too long. Most Bluetooth connections require paired devices to be within about 30 feet of one another. It also can't hurt to make sure there's nothing physically in the way, like a thick wall or a door.

My master device and servant device aren't connecting with one another.

  • Aside from the obvious—making sure everything is switched on or turning devices off and restarting them—check to see if your devices are built with near-field communication; many Bluetooth electronics today are. With NFC, all it takes is physically tapping the two devices together to pair them. Once you do, you'll usually get some sort of prompt on the master device asking if you'd like to pair it with the other device. Voilà!

Setting Up a Bluetooth FM Transmitter

Did you know that even if you've got an older, non-Bluetooth car-audio setup, you can still play wireless audio through it? With a Bluetooth FM transmitter plugged into your car's cigarette lighter or 12V power outlet, it's not just possible, but easy. Here's how you do it.

  1. Find a vacant FM-radio frequency on your car's radio, and tune your FM transmitter to the same frequency.
  2. Enable Bluetooth on your phone's settings. Note: You may need to press a Bluetooth enabling button on your FM transmitter for your phone to recognize its signal (see generic pairing instructions above; the process from here on out will be pretty similar).
  3. In your phone's Bluetooth settings window, you sould now see the FM transmitter; tap the FM transmitter's entry to pair it with your phone. Note: Depending on your transmitter model, you might get an audio prompt verifying the successful pairing with your phone.

That's it! You should now be able to stream your phone's audio through your car's speakers.