If you want to buy a Bluetooth device, you need to know what it can and cannot do. Can it playback stereo audio? Does it have audio and playback controls? Bluetooth profiles and protocols provide us with that information. So, before you buy that next Bluetooth headset or speaker, here is an explanation of the profiles and protocols you should look for on the box.
But first, what is Bluetooth, and how does it work? Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard that is used to communicate between two or more devices over short distances, without the need for a cable. It is suitable for transmitting small amounts of data and consumes very little power, when compared to other forms of wireless communication.
When we say that Bluetooth transmits data, we do not mean Internet data. Bluetooth does not use an Internet connection in any way. By data, we mean, bits and pieces of information. Now, let’s go on to define what a Bluetooth profile is, and examine how many of them there are, and what they do.
What is a Bluetooth Profile?
A Bluetooth profile defines the functionality that a device supports and can execute when it connects with another by Bluetooth. If both devices support the same profiles, then you are able to use and enjoy the features or functionalities that profile specifies.
Where only one device supports a particular profile, you will be unable to use the associated functionalities, because the other device is unable to communicate at that level.
There are four main Bluetooth profiles, as follows: HSP (Handset Profile), HFP (Hands Free Profile), A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile), and AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile). Let’s explore them to understand the features they each support.
HSP and HFP Bluetooth profiles are those required for typical, mono Bluetooth headset operations; A2DP and AVRCP are important for stereo headsets. Note that there are other Bluetooth profiles beyond these four, but for these are the most common because they are used in wireless headsets and earbuds.
Bluetooth Profiles: What Is HSP?
HSP (Headset Profile) is one of the most common Bluetooth protocols and makes two-way audio communication between a headset and a phone possible. This is the default profile that Bluetooth headsets use.
Note though that it enables only mono audio on headsets. It does not support stereo audio. A Bluetooth wireless headset that supports only HSP is good for basic telephone calls and nothing else. It can’t play music from your smartphone and can’t be used to control audio volume.
HSP is the Bluetooth profile supported by the most basic and the cheapest Bluetooth headsets around. All you can do with them is take and receive telephone calls.
Bluetooth Profiles: What Is A2DP?
A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) is a Bluetooth protocol that enables a headset to stream high quality stereo audio wirelessly from a smartphone or other compatible device. The quality of the audio is much better, both for calls and for music playback.
If you want to buy a Bluetooth headset for listening to music from your phone, make sure that your devices specifications lists A2DP as a supported Bluetooth profile.
Bluetooth Profiles: What Is AVRCP?
AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile) is the Bluetooth profile that enables remote control functionality. By way of example, it lets a Bluetooth headset control media playback on your smartphone. Those Bluetooth headsets and loudspeakers that let you pause and resume music playback support AVRCP.
Bluetooth Profiles: What Is HFP?
HFP (Hands Free Protocol) is a Bluetooth profile that enables a two-way wireless speaker-phone to be used with a Bluetooth phone, and is usually found in Bluetooth hands-free car kits. This is like a twin sister to HSP Bluetooth protocol and on its own supports mono audio.
As a matter of fact, both HSP and HFP are the two most common Bluetooth protocols and you probably do not have to worry much about a headset supporting them. As such, when shopping, depending on your needs, the profiles to watch out for are A2DP and AVRCP.
Do not forget: if your Bluetooth accessory does not support a particular profile, even if your smartphone does, you will not be able to enjoy the features of that profile on the accesory in question. For example, if a headset does not support A2DP, you will be unable to listen to music from your smartphone on it. You will only be able to take and make telephone calls on it.
Other Common Bluetooth Profiles
There are more than twenty (20) Bluetooth profiles in existence. Besides the four most popular ones already mentioned and explained above, here are some more commonly used profiles.
- Basic Imaging Profile (BIP): This Bluetooth profile defines the ability to transfer and print images, as well as remotely control an imaging device.
- Basic Printing Profile (BPP): If you need the ability to print text and documents over a Bluetooth connection, this profile makes that possible.
- File Transfer Profile (FTP): Transferring files is one thing, being able to browse folders and locations on the connected device is another. This profile enables the ability to browse folders and locate files between two devices.
- Dial-Up Network Profile (DUN): If you weren’t aware of it, it is possible to tether via Bluetooth, and this capability has been around for years. This Bluetooth profile is behind that functionality.
- Human Interface Device Profile (HID): This is the Bluetooth profile that enables the use of wireless mice, keyboards, and other such devices.
- Personal Area Networking Profile (PAN): This profile allows for the creation of a wireless area network over a Bluetooth connection.
- Video Distribution Profile (VDP): This is the Bluetooth profile that makes it possible to stream video over a Bluetooth connection.
Understanding Bluetooth Versions 4.0, 4.1, 4.2, 5.0, 5.2
Simply put, the higher the Bluetooth number, the faster data can be transferred, the more secure it is, and the less power your device consumes to maintain a connection. So two Bluetooth 5.0 devices can create a more secure connection between one another, transfer data faster, and last longer before needing their batteries recharged.
What is Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE?
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is not a Bluetooth profile. It is a light-weight connection that consumes much less power than regular Bluetooth. It was developed by Nokia and was introduced as part of the Bluetooth 4.0 core specification. It is used for connectivity with wearables and other gadgets that connect and talk to modern smartphones.
As such, BLE is widely applied for health care, sports and fitness, Internet connectivity (you knew that you can share your phone’s mobile data with other devices via Bluetooth; didn’t you?), proximity sensing, alerts and time profiles, among others. When your smartwatch connects to your iPhone or Android smartphone, Bluetooth Low Energy is the culprit.
Does Bluetooth drain batteries?
Modern Bluetooth standards are highly efficient and thrive on maintaining connections without a huge battery drain. Think of your smartwatch or wireless headset: these devices are able to last for days while being connected to your smartphone. That speaks of how battery efficient Bluetooth is. Bluetooth has minimal impact on your device’s battery life, so you can leave it enabled for as long as you need it.
Why Is It Called Bluetooth?
Bluetooth was invented by a team of scientists working for Ericsson, the Swedish networking company. It is named after Harald Bluetooth, who was the popular king of Denmark in the late 900s.
That is the simple, layman’s explanation of Bluetooth profiles and standards. Where cost permits, always go for devices with all the Bluetooth profiles and with the latest version number.
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Founder of MobilityArena. Yomi’s journey in mobile started in 2001. Besides obsessing over mobile phones, he also started creating WAP sites (early mobile-friendly websites created with WML). He began writing about phones in 2004 and has been at it since then. He has owned over 200 devices, from Symbian, Palm, PocketPC/Windows Mobile, BlackBerry/BB10, webOS, Windows Phone, Firefox, Ubuntu Touch, to Android, iOS, and KaiOS operating systems.