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Bluetooth and GNU/Linux

By Jem Matzan on September 21, 2005 (8:00:00 AM)

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Bluetooth is an open, IEEE connection standard for wireless device communications. Here's an introduction to Bluetooth on GNU/Linux, including how to enable support for it, some programs that monitor Bluetooth communications, and some hardware devices that use Bluetooth.

You're probably already familiar with the 802.11 standards for wireless Ethernet local area network (LAN) communications, which allow several machines to communicate and exchange data. But what about 802.15? That's the IEEE group for wireless personal area networks (PAN), which allow several devices, such as cellular phones, printers, PDAs, and computers, to connect to one another. Even if you have heard of it, you probably know 802.15 better as "Bluetooth."

As far as it concerns personal computers, the initial vision for Bluetooth was to eliminate corded peripheral devices for PCs. Your printer, mouse, keyboard, and even your digital camera could theoretically connect to your computer using the same secure wireless standard. Unfortunately, manufacturers never really integrated Bluetooth receivers well with computer motherboards and peripheral devices. More commonly today Bluetooth is used to transfer data between cellular phones and other devices, especially other cell phones and computers.

It's probably not worth your while to invest in any Bluetooth equipment if you don't have a specific need for it. But if you already have a Bluetooth-enabled device (such as your cell phone), or if you cannot use standard wireless peripherals, you might want to look into making it work.

Modern Bluetooth devices can transfer data from up to 100 meters away at a rate of up to 2.1 megabits per second. Earlier Bluetooth transmitters that use the 1.2, 1.1, or 1.0 standards are slower and can have a shorter range and fewer features. Any new peripherals you buy today should conform to the Bluetooth 2.0 standard. If not, Bluetooth 2.0 hubs, which can connect to as many as seven Bluetooth devices simultaneously, are backwards compatible with all previous standards.


Although many PC motherboards advertise Bluetooth support, few come with all the necessary hardware to enable that support; often times you'll have to contact the computer or motherboard manufacturer and separately purchase a Bluetooth antenna or add-on card to connect to your computer.

A potentially cheaper and certainly easier way to add Bluetooth support to any computer is to use a USB Bluetooth receiver. Belkin makes a good 100 meter Bluetooth 1.1 receiver for around $70. It's about the size of a disposable cigarette lighter (only much flatter) and plugs into a spare USB port. It's perfectly compatible with GNU/Linux and, assuming your kernel has Bluetooth support, the device is almost instantly available and ready to connect to peripherals after insertion.

What about Bluetooth peripherals? Both Microsoft and Logitech offer Bluetooth keyboard and mouse desktop sets. The Microsoft set is twice the price of its standard cordless cousin; the Logitech set is a mere 50% more costly than its standard cordless counterpart. It's not clear whether they offer any noticeable difference in performance, although due to special attention to power efficiency, the Bluetooth devices may offer longer battery life than standard wireless peripherals.

Enabling Bluetooth

If you're using a commercial desktop GNU/Linux distribution, chances are you already have the Bluetooth kernel drivers compiled as modules and ready to load upon detection of a Bluetooth hub and a Bluetooth peripheral device. In that case, all you need is a Bluetooth hub, software to detect and manage devices, and some Bluetooth-enabled peripheral hardware to wirelessly connect to your computer.

If you're a do-it-yourselfer or if your distro doesn't have Bluetooth support compiled by default, you'll have to go into the kernel configuration and add them by hand. Bluetooth has its own kernel modules within the Networking subsection of the Device Driver heading in the Linux kernel menu. You'll want to enable each of the protocols within the Bluetooth subsystem support menu. If you build them as modules, you'll have to load them by hand using modprobe, or load them at boot time automatically according to your distribution's specific method. For the least amount of hassle, just build Bluetooth support into your kernel, recompile it, install it, and adjust your boot loader configuration if necessary.

Monitoring software

Commercial GNU/Linux distributions will also probably have all of the Bluetooth utilities you need. If you didn't install them initially, you can add them via your package manager or software installation framework.

If you're setting Bluetooth up yourself on a gratis GNU/Linux distribution, there are software frameworks you can download and install to connect to Bluetooth devices. This is the last step to making your GNU/Linux computer Bluetooth-ready. For KDE users there's KDE Bluetooth, and for GNOME fans there's GNOME Bluetooth. Both are a collection of programs that integrate with their respective desktop environments to provide Bluetooth connectivity and data transfer capabilities.

The BlueZ utilities, which are normally included with graphical Bluetooth packages such as those mentioned above, provide command-line programs for Bluetooth exploration and connectivity. Of particular interest are the hciconfig program, which shows the status of the Bluetooth hub, and the hcitool program, which scans for and identifies Bluetooth peripherals. The manual page for each command tells you everything you need to know to use them.

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on Bluetooth and GNU/Linux

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Article has the wrong focus - at least for me

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 22, 2005 04:20 AM

What I want Bluetooth for is to enable me to use my laptop in any room in my house, while it remains on my LAN by using a Bluetooth connection. In other words, the way I want to use Bluetooth is as a computer-to-computer connection. Most people I talk to see it that way, too.

But the article seems to see Bluetooth as a way to connect peripherals to a computer. I've never met anyone who wanted to do that. Why would you want to move a printer/scanner/mouse to a different room?

So I really want to read articles about Bluetooth. But this one was just a waste of time.


Re:Article has the wrong focus - at least for me

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 22, 2005 07:59 AM
Bluetooth is for peripherals. It's way too slow for wireless networking. Criticize the article intelligently, would you?


Re:Article has the wrong focus - at least for me

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 22, 2005 01:27 PM
Nobody spoke, that bluetooth is for intensive downloading, stream video etc. For other usage BT is fast enough. I really don't need no move any peripherals anywhere far from my desktop. But I often need to connect my notebook to home network. Wires, hubs, network cards... are not so convenient way to transfer some documents or send/receive email.

So, I agree, this article is not very useful.


Re:Article has the wrong focus - at least for me

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 22, 2005 02:51 PM
[...]But I often need to connect my notebook to home network[...]

For this kind of home network usage, there is a thing called Wi-Fi, you've probably heard about it.

If your concern is the usage of multiple standards, you'll have to wait until UWB (Ultra Wide Band).


Re:Article has the wrong focus - at least for me

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on September 24, 2005 02:08 AM
You can fake either a PPP dialup connection (RFCOMM) or an actual network connection (bnet) over a bluetooth. Either will let you connect another machine to the network.

A bluetooth network is suppose to be pretty localized though. Are you sure you shouldn't be going for 802.11 instead of bluetooth?


Bluetooth phone as modem

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on October 15, 2005 08:33 AM
I disagree with you, poster above. Just because the article doesn't focus on exactly what *you* need, it's certainly useful... The world doesn't revolve around you... If you just want to connect to the net, get wifi. It's the right tool for the job.

Bluetooth is great for connecting peripherals without having to bring the wires. Such as <a href="" title="">using a bluetooth phone as a modem for linux</a>, or transferring your pics from the phone to the laptop. easily achieved with <a href="" title="">obexftp</a>.

Your critisism is like critisizing a tractor manufacturer because their things with wheels on them aren't particulariliy good race cars.


Bluetooth and GNU/Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 21, 2007 12:12 PM
I want to cross compile bluez-utils-2.25 for mips can anyone tell the procedure


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