Bluetooth Low Energy vs. Bluetooth Classic: What's the Difference?

As wireless technologies continue to evolve, understanding the nuances between Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Bluetooth Classic becomes crucial for choosing the right communication protocol for IoT applications.

Published on February 21, 2013

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Bluetooth Low Energy vs. Bluetooth Classic: What's the Difference?

Even as we approach the 30th anniversary of its creation, Bluetooth technology continues to stand out as one of the premier solutions for enabling wireless connectivity, especially in industrial automation, predictive maintenance, cold chain monitoring, and commercial IoT applications. While most people are familiar with “Bluetooth Classic” due to its integration with our daily lives, many might be unaware of a more recent Bluetooth technology called Bluetooth Low Energy, or Bluetooth LE.  

This article dives into the core differences between BLE and Bluetooth Classic, shedding light on their unique capabilities, use cases, and how choosing the right type of Bluetooth can make or break the success of your project. 

Table of Contents: 

  1. What is Bluetooth Classic?
  2. What is Bluetooth Low Energy?
  3. How Does Bluetooth LE Work?
  4. Features of Bluetooth LE
  5. Differences Between Bluetooth Classic & Bluetooth LE
  6. Applications of Bluetooth & Bluetooth LE
  7. Frequently Asked Questions About BLE

What is Bluetooth Classic? 

When Bluetooth first came to market, there was no Bluetooth Classic or Bluetooth Low Energy. It was simply Bluetooth, a protocol that we now refer to as Bluetooth Classic since the introduction of Bluetooth Low Energy. Bluetooth Classic facilitates short-range wireless communication between devices. It operates in the 2.4 GHz industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) band and allows devices like smartphones, computers, headphones, and countless other electronics to exchange data over short distances without the need for wires. This technology enables the creation of personal area networks (PANs) with high levels of security. 

Originally developed in the late 1990s, Bluetooth Classic has undergone several updates to improve its data transfer capabilities, security, and energy efficiency. It is particularly renowned for its role in serving as the most popular standard for wireless audio and interoperability among devices from multiple manufacturers. Bluetooth Classic is still in use in many Bluetooth applications to this day. Whether it's connecting a wireless headset to a phone, enabling a hands-free call in a vehicle, or syncing data between medical monitoring devices, Bluetooth Classic is the original Bluetooth implementation that provides a reliable and easy-to-use solution that has revolutionized the way devices interact. Bluetooth is still an extremely popular wireless standard for peripherals in many markets and across many device types, particularly in legacy applications. 

What Is Bluetooth Low Energy? 

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), the main feature of the Bluetooth specification v4.0 released in December 2009, is a wireless personal area network technology designed and marketed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) specifically for applications in the healthcare, fitness, beacons, security, and home entertainment industries. 

Bluetooth LE (formerly referred to as BLE or as Bluetooth Smart) is fundamentally different from Bluetooth Classic in that it reduces power consumption and cost while maintaining a similar communication range. 

How Does Bluetooth LE Work? 

Bluetooth LE/BLE achieves its low energy consumption by keeping many components and subsystems of the device in sleep mode until a connection is initiated or until data must be transmitted. This means that devices can operate for months or even years on a small battery, waking up only occasionally to communicate wirelessly with other devices.  

The first iteration of BLE was particularly well-suited for applications that need to exchange small amounts of data periodically or at irregular intervals, such as fitness trackers that periodically sync with a smartphone or smart thermostats that send temperature updates to a central system. The following graphic shows the distinction that was made at the time between Bluetooth, Bluetooth Smart Ready, and Bluetooth Smart, and while the branding and naming of these device categories has changed, the core concept remains mostly the same with one exception: Bluetooth LE was eventually adapted further to support audio as well (more on that in a minute). 

From a technical standpoint, BLE operates in the 2.4 GHz ISM (Industrial, Scientific, and Medical) band. It uses a spread spectrum, frequency hopping, full duplex signal at a rate of 1600 hops/sec. This hopping is designed to reduce interference and allow multiple devices to communicate simultaneously without significant cross-talk. BLE supports 40 channels, each with a bandwidth of 2 MHz, where three of these are advertising channels and 37 are data channels. This structure enhances the robustness and efficiency of BLE communications. 

BLE's protocol stack is a significant evolution from its predecessors, consisting of the Generic Access Profile (GAP), Generic Attribute Profile (GATT), Security Manager, and Link Layer. GAP controls connections and advertising in BLE. It defines how two devices communicate in terms of discoverability and connectability. GATT, on the other hand, is used to send and receive short pieces of data known as "attributes" over an established BLE connection and is built on top of the Attribute Protocol (ATT). This setup simplifies data exchange and device interaction. 

Security is a major benefit of BLE, featuring robust AES-128 encryption and advanced authentication methods. This ensures that data transmitted between devices is protected against eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks. Additionally, BLE includes the feature of LE Secure Connections, which introduces a stronger pairing method using the Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman algorithm for key generation. This enhancement further solidifies BLE's capabilities in protecting sensitive data transfers, crucial for applications in sectors like healthcare and financial services. 

As mentioned previously, Bluetooth LE continued and continues to evolve to meet new applications and use cases. One of the most significant is the introduction of Bluetooth LE Audio. With LE Audio, Bluetooth is able to serve amazingly high-fidelity audio while still reducing power consumption. Later improvements also added support for audio broadcast and sharing as well. This is discussed later in the Audio Capabilities section.  

In essence, BLE extends the application of Bluetooth to cases where conserving energy and prolonging battery life are paramount, making it an ideal choice for a wide array of new, power-sensitive solutions across various industries. At Ezurio, we leverage BLE technology to deliver innovative, energy-efficient solutions tailored to meet the unique needs of our clients in the medical, industrial, and consumer electronics sectors. 

Features of Bluetooth LE 

In addition to its ultra-low power consumption, Bluetooth LE has several unique features that set it apart from other available wireless technologies, including: 

  • Interoperability: Like classic Bluetooth devices, BLE devices follow standards set by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), and BLE devices from different manufacturers interoperate. 
  • Robustness: BLE uses fast frequency hopping to secure a robust transmission even in the presence of other wireless technologies. 
  • Ease of Use: BLE has been developed so that it is straightforward for designers to implement it in a variety of different applications. Ezurio makes this even easier with the smartBASIC embedded programming language. 
  • Latency: The total time to send small chunks of data is generally fewer than 6 ms, and as low as 3 ms (compared to 100 ms with classic Bluetooth). 
  • Range: Thanks to an increased modulation index, BLE technology offers greater range (up to 200 feet and beyond, in ideal environments) than classic Bluetooth offers. 

For developers working with BLE, tools such as the Bluetooth Developer Studio and various BLE simulators facilitate the development and testing of applications. These tools offer a streamlined way to prototype, test, and refine BLE-based services, ensuring robust and efficient end-user experiences. Additionally, extensive community support and libraries, like those provided in development environments like Arduino and Raspberry Pi, lower the barrier to entry for utilizing BLE in custom projects. 

Bluetooth Classic vs. Bluetooth Low Energy: Key Differences 

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Bluetooth Classic represent two distinct modes of operation under the Bluetooth umbrella. Bluetooth Classic was developed primarily for continuous wireless voice and data transmission, making it ideal for applications such as wireless headsets, car hands-free systems, and stereo audio streaming. It operates on a high data rate, typically up to 3 Mbps, using a robust error correction feature to ensure a steady stream of data without interruption. 

BLE was initially tailored for low power consumption and intermittent data transmissions, which are critical for applications where conserving battery life is essential. Introduced in the Bluetooth 4.0 specification, BLE was designed to facilitate communication for devices that only need to exchange small amounts of data periodically, such as fitness trackers and smart home sensors. BLE achieves its energy efficiency by allowing devices to remain in sleep mode most of the time and wake up only when communication is necessary.  

However, BLE now serves all of the functions that Bluetooth Classic was designed for, and in most cases with a distinct advantage in terms of performance and latency. Even Bluetooth LE audio manages to achieve very high-quality audio at much lower data rates via the LC3 audio codec that caps out near 500 kbps.  

Data Transmission 

One fundamental technical difference between BLE and Bluetooth Classic is the way they handle connections and data transmission. Bluetooth Classic uses a baseband protocol with a larger packet size, suited for continuous wireless connections and higher data throughput. On the other hand, BLE uses a simpler protocol that supports smaller packet sizes, which reduces complexity, power consumption, and cost. This makes BLE less suited for audio applications but ideal for many modern IoT devices that transmit small data packets. 


From a frequency perspective, both BLE and Bluetooth Classic operate in the 2.4 GHz ISM band but utilize different methods to combat interference and ensure robust communication. Bluetooth Classic employs a fast frequency-hopping spread spectrum technique, hopping at 1600 hops per second over 79 channels each 1 MHz wide, to minimize the risk of interference. Conversely, BLE uses a similar frequency-hopping approach but only utilizes 40 channels, each 2 MHz wide, including three dedicated advertising channels to initiate connections. 

Range & Power Consumption 

In terms of range and power, Bluetooth Classic generally offers a longer communication range (up to 330ft) due to its higher power consumption, which can be suitable for applications like audio streaming that may need more extensive coverage. In comparison, BLE, while generally designed for shorter-range applications, has seen enhancements with Bluetooth 5.0 and later versions, which significantly extend the possible range and increase the message capacity, making it more versatile for industrial applications. BLE offers more flexibility in this regard as well: throughput can be sacrificed for an extended range, allowing developers to tailor their Bluetooth link’s characteristics to their application’s needs.  

Audio Capabilities 

As mentioned, audio streaming capabilities used to be exclusive to Bluetooth Classic, which supports Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) for streaming high-quality audio. BLE was not initially designed to handle such tasks but has adapted over time with updates like Bluetooth 5.2, which introduced LE Audio. LE Audio allows BLE to transmit sound, including music and voice, efficiently. The LC3 codec in particular achieves quality that is practically indistinguishable from Bluetooth Classic audio with dramatically lower bit rates.  

The choice between BLE and Bluetooth Classic in a new design ultimately boils down to what other devices need to be connectable to your new product. Adoption of Bluetooth Classic is falling dramatically as Bluetooth Low Energy now serves all of the functionality that was previously unique to Bluetooth Classic. Since BLE-exclusive devices cannot communicate with Bluetooth Classic-exclusive devices, it’s important to consider both ends of your link to determine what protocol best suits your application.  

At Ezurio, we provide LE-only, Classic-only, and Dual-Mode (LE + Classic) bluetooth modules that can solve all of these application needs. Our engineering solutions harness these technologies according to client needs, ensuring optimal performance and efficiency, whether in consumer electronics, industrial automation, or healthcare devices. 

Comparing Applications of Bluetooth Classic & Bluetooth LE 

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Bluetooth Classic previously served completely distinct application spheres due to their differing technical specifications and design goals. BLE, with its focus on low power consumption and intermittent data transmission, was ideally suited for applications where devices need to operate over long periods on limited battery power.  

However, as of today, whether it’s audio streaming, low-latency data, intermittent sensor data, or any other Bluetooth need, Bluetooth LE is the choice for OEMs looking to design Bluetooth connectivity into a new device. If your device must be able to connect to a large number of unknown other devices that exist in the market today, it’s well advised to integrate a dual-mode (Classic + LE) module into your device. Otherwise, BLE is the way of the future.  

Applications for Bluetooth: 

  • Wireless Audio Devices: Headphones, speakers, and car audio systems use Bluetooth for streaming high-quality audio without interruptions. 
  • Hands-Free Calling Systems: Many vehicle systems use Bluetooth to allow drivers to make and receive calls without touching their mobile devices, ensuring seamless audio quality and connectivity. 
  • Computer Peripherals: Keyboards, mice, and game controllers often use Bluetooth for its robustness and ability to handle continuous data transmission reliably. 
  • File Transfers: Devices like smartphones and computers use Bluetooth to transfer files quickly due to its high data rate capabilities. 
  • Medical Devices: Certain medical diagnostics and monitoring equipment require the continuous data transmission offered by Bluetooth, making it suitable for real-time patient monitoring systems. 
  • Industrial Control Systems: In environments where control data must be sent reliably and continuously, such as remote controls for machinery or automated production lines, Bluetooth is preferred. 
  • Wearable Health Monitors: Devices such as fitness bands and heart rate monitors utilize BLE for its low energy consumption, ensuring that they can run for extended periods without frequent recharging. 
  • Smart Home Devices: BLE is used in smart locks, lighting systems, and thermostats, where small bits of data are transmitted intermittently to control home environments efficiently. 
  • Beacons for Retail and Navigation: In retail, BLE beacons can transmit marketing messages to nearby smartphones. For navigation, beacons help in indoor location tracking and wayfinding solutions. 
  • IoT Sensors: Sensors in agricultural, environmental monitoring, or manufacturing settings use BLE to periodically send data readings to a central database with minimal energy use. 
  • Smart Watches: These devices leverage BLE for syncing notifications and activity data to a smartphone while conservatively using battery resources. 
  • Battery-Operated Toys and Gadgets: BLE is ideal for small electronic toys and gadgets that need to communicate with controllers or apps without draining battery life quickly. 

In the design of IoT ecosystems, BLE plays a critical role due to its low power consumption and extended range capabilities. The introduction of Bluetooth 5.0 brought significant enhancements to BLE, including increased range (up to four times compared to Bluetooth 4.2) and speed (twice the data throughput), as well as an increased broadcast message capacity. These improvements make BLE even more attractive for industrial IoT applications that require large networks of connected devices over extended areas. 

BLE’s power efficiency and robust data handling plays a pivotal role in modern wireless solutions. Whether you are developing cutting-edge medical devices, advancing smart home technologies, or enhancing industrial automation, adopting Bluetooth provides a reliable and well-understood technology to enhance the performance and practicality of your wireless projects. Ezurio continues to lead in delivering innovative, tailor-made solutions that not only meet but exceed our clients' expectations in connectivity and efficiency. Whether it’s BLE-only, Bluetooth Classic-only, or dual-mode Bluetooth Classic + BLE modules, Ezurio provides the solutions for every Bluetooth implementation and with the expertise and support that sets us apart in the wireless industry.  

Frequently Asked Questions About Bluetooth & Bluetooth Low Energy 

Is there a difference between Bluetooth 5.0 and Bluetooth low energy? 

Yes, there is a difference between Bluetooth 5.0 and Bluetooth Low Energy, though they are related within the broader Bluetooth technology framework. While Bluetooth Low Energy refers to a specific technology under the Bluetooth standard, Bluetooth 5.0, on the other hand, refers to a version of the Bluetooth core specifications. Bluetooth Low Energy was introduced in the Bluetooth 4.0 standard, and several versions since (up to and including the latest Bluetooth 5.0 standard) enhanced the capabilities of Bluetooth, including BLE, by providing improvements such as increased range, higher speeds, improved broadcast capacity, and better coexistence. 

What is the difference between Bluetooth EDR and BLE? 

Bluetooth Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) are two distinct technologies within the Bluetooth standard, each designed for different purposes and offering unique advantages. EDR is a feature of Bluetooth Classic that enhances the data transfer rate. The primary aim of EDR is to increase the bandwidth available for Bluetooth communications. Bluetooth LE achieves increases in bandwidth via newer developments in the BLE feature set that in many ways render Bluetooth Classic obsolete for newer designs.  

Is Bluetooth Classic still used? 

Yes, Bluetooth Classic is still widely used today, although new adoptions are at a steep decline. Despite the rise of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for low power applications, Bluetooth Classic remains important for some applications that have not seen the adoption of BLE, in particular for audio. This makes Bluetooth Classic continually relevant for serving Bluetooth applications where the other end of the connection, such as a stereo unit, requires Bluetooth Classic connection.  

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