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Short-Range Wireless Communication: Bluetooth, ZigBee & Infrared Transmission

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Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul is a GIS professor at Vancouver Island U, has a PhD from U of British Columbia, and has taught stats and programming for 15 years.

Wireless technology allows for the transfer of information via radio waves instead of cables. Learn about short-range wireless communication and understand its use for technology such as Bluetooth, ZigBee, infrared transmission, and others. Updated: 08/23/2021

Short-Range Wireless

A number of different wireless technologies have been developed for very short distances. These are referred to as 'short-range wireless communication.' Signals travel from a few centimeters to several meters.

In contrast, signals in medium-range wireless communication travel up to 100 meters or so, while signals in wide-area wireless communication can travel from several kilometers to several thousand kilometers. Examples of short-range wireless communications are Bluetooth, infrared, near field communication, ultraband and Zigbee.

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  • 0:07 Short-Range Wireless
  • 0:45 Bluetooth
  • 4:09 Infrared
  • 5:56 Zigbee
  • 8:18 Other Examples
  • 9:28 Lesson Summary
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Bluetooth is a type of wireless communication used to transmit voice and data at high speeds using radio waves. It is a standard protocol for short-range radio communications between many different types of devices, including mobile phones, computers, entertainment systems and other electronics. Devices need to be within approximately 10 meters of each other, and the typical data transfer rate is around 2 megabits per second (Mbps).

The technology is named after the Danish King Harold Bluetooth who unified Scandinavia. Bluetooth signals operate in the 2.45 GHz frequency band. Every device using Bluetooth has a small microchip that can send both voice and data signals. In a typical setup, one device operates as the master, and one or more other devices operate as slaves. The master device uses link manager software to identify other Bluetooth devices to create links with them to be able to send and receive data.

Bluetooth uses a spread-spectrum frequency-hopping technology. This means it uses multiple frequencies at the same time to limit interference when using multiple devices. While Bluetooth does not need a direct line of sight, the signals do not carry very far, and the devices need to be within approximately 10 meters. This works great to make phone calls using the audio system in your car or to play music through a wireless speaker, but it does not work well to connect multiple computers in an office building.

Bluetooth is widely used in mobile phones. For example, a wireless mobile phone headset allows you to make phone calls without placing your phone to your ear. A similar example is to use your Bluetooth to set up a link between your mobile phone and you car's audio system, making it possible to make hands-free phone calls. Bluetooth is also widely used to establish a wireless connection between a computer and various peripheral devices, including a mouse, keyboard, printer, digital camera, etc.

Many modern electronic devices have Bluetooth built in, such as remote controls for video games. It is also used for regular desktop and laptop computers but is not nearly as common as a WiFi card. However, if your computer does not have Bluetooth, you can use a Bluetooth USB dongle instead.

While Bluetooth and WiFi have some similar applications, there are some key differences. WiFi is typically used as a replacement for high speed cabling in local area networks and makes it possible for a mobile device to establish an Internet connection. Bluetooth is more commonly used as a replacement for cables between different electronic devices to communicate with each other, establishing a personal area network. Bluetooth is not widely used for an Internet connection.

WiFi also allows for higher speeds and connections over greater distances. On the other hand, Bluetooth is often much simpler to operate and may only require a single button press, such as in remote controls and headsets.


Infrared (IR) light is electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths that are just beyond those of visible light. The human eye can see light in the wavelengths from approximately 390-700 nanometers. Infrared light has wavelengths from 700 nanometers to 1 millimeter. This corresponds to a frequency range of approximately 430 THz to 300 GHz. Infrared is widely used in applications such as night vision devices and thermal imaging. Infrared essentially allows you to see heat, even when there is no visible light source.

Infrared has been widely used for short-range wireless communications, in particular in the wavelength range from 1530-1565 micrometers, known as the C-band. Most remote controls for electronic devices, such as your TV or DVD player, use infrared. The remote control uses an infrared light-emitting diode (LED) to emit infrared radiation that is focused into a narrow beam by a plastic lens. The information being transmitted, such as the number of the channel you want to watch, is encoded into the signal. The receiver converts the infrared radiation to an electric current and decodes the information.

Infrared signals do not penetrate walls and require an approximate line of sight. The range of the signal is limited and typically does not carry further than around 10 meters. Infrared lasers are also used as the light source for fiber optic cables, and while this is not considered an infrared wireless connection, it shows the versatility of infrared.

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