Do Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) use phone data and battery?

Bluetooth has risen to prominence as not only the standard connection between countless everyday items - such as smartphones and headphones - but as one of the leading technologies empowering businesses to implement indoor positioning and indoor navigation (IPIN) systems.

One question we at Pointr get asked regularly when first discussing IPIN with clients is the impact of these Bluetooth technologies upon their users. Naturally, no matter if the business in question is a retail location, a healthcare facility, an airport, or another type of location, all are concerned with the potential impact of any new innovation upon their customers or clients. 

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The aim of any IPIN system is to improve customer experience, be it through helping them to get where they're aiming to go with wayfinding, targeting them with helpful geofencing-triggered notifications, or other IPIN-related service. However, businesses wouldn’t want a situation where these benefits are outweighed by potential downsides - namely, the Bluetooth connection required to achieve indoor positioning and navigation sapping the battery or the data allowance on their customers’ phones and resulting in a poor user experience.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the specifics of how Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy technologies impact upon phone data and battery usage.

Bluetooth vs Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) - what are the core differences?

Quick summary

  • Both Bluetooth and BLE use the same basic technology
  • Bluetooth is used for connections that require constant communication - such as streaming music on a smartphone to wireless headphones
  • BLE is suited for more passive connections - such as fitness trackers that connect to a smartphone and update once every couple of minutes
  • BLE consumes less battery than Bluetooth
  • Both have similar ranges

Firstly, it’s important to clarify the distinction between Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). While both utilize fundamentally the same technology, BLE, as the name suggests, consumes far less energy than classic Bluetooth. Ordinary Bluetooth remains on and in an ‘active’ state permanently, whereas BLE utilizes a ‘sleep’ mode, only waking up in order to quickly beam pieces of information yet always remaining connected while two devices are within range of one another.

You may well have encountered these two different forms of Bluetooth in everyday life. Connections that require a lot of data, such as playing music from a smartphone on a pair of Bluetooth headphones, will typically use a normal Bluetooth connection. Devices such as fitness trackers and some basic smartwatches, meanwhile, may only use BLE, as they tend to only need to communicate with one another and send data every few minutes. This saves the user from having to repeatedly re-connect the devices, but also means less battery is used.

This is important, as all the leading examples of beacon technology, which is what Bluetooth-based IPIN systems almost always use, leverage BLE.

Does Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) drain phone battery?

Yes, both Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy connections contribute to smartphone battery consumption. However, the respective impact both have on battery life is generally so insignificant as to not matter when it comes to day-to-day smartphone use. 

How much do they each use? In the case of a full Bluetooth connection (like that used to connect a smartphone to a pair of wireless headphones, for example), you can expect a usage of between 5% and 8% of the average smartphone battery over a 24 hour period. For Bluetooth Low Energy connections (such as those used in a Bluetooth-powered indoor positioning environment), the consumption is even lower - around 1% to 3% of a standard smartphone battery across a 24 hour period.

In short, there is no reason to rule out a BLE-powered indoor positioning or indoor navigation system on the basis that users would be negatively affected by it draining their phone’s battery.

Bluetooth Low Energy definitely holds an advantage over regular Bluetooth when it comes to how much phone battery drain it contributes to, although in the grand scheme of things, the impact overall is still negligible. In either scenario, frequent users of Bluetooth or BLE devices and connections need not worry about switching their Bluetooth off at every available opportunity; far greater energy savings can be achieved elsewhere, such as screen brightness and killing app background processes.

With all this said, you may be wondering why any sort of system or device uses BLE over Bluetooth in the first place. After all, if the battery drain from both is relatively negligible, why does it matter? Well, in most cases, it's less about the drain on the end user device (such as smartphones) and more about the capabilities of the transmitting device, such as Bluetooth beacons. While many modern smartphone users expect to have to charge their device once every couple of days at least, for beacons, which are often affixed to ceilings and other hard-to-reach spots, battery life is far more critical. The difference between a beacon sending Bluetooth signals compared to BLE signals can be months or even years of extra battery life (in the case of BLE) before a battery recharge or replacement is required. 

Does Bluetooth BLE use my phone data allowance?

No - Bluetooth is entirely separate from cellular data and so does not impact data allowances, or require cellular signal to work.

This is a particularly pertinent question when it comes to implementing an IPIN system - whether the repeated ‘pinging’ of a smartphone by BLE beacons uses up a phone’s data allowance. Many people still have limits on the amount of wireless data they are able to use per month, with phone carriers implementing expensive additional billing on phone users who exceed their monthly allowance. Naturally, no business wants to be in a situation where their technology has resulted in a customer or visitor being affected by an increased bill.

However, as with battery usage, there’s good news here too. Bluetooth does not use a phone’s data allowance at all; it is entirely independent, just as using a WiFi connection on most modern smartphones automatically overrides the use of mobile data in order to save using it unnecessarily. 

This is also related to one of the many benefits of Pointr’s IPIN system - even when moving into indoor areas with no phone signal at all (and therefore no access to mobile data), the Pointr system is able to continue providing extremely accurate positioning data and navigation without interruption.