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 aiding them with wayfinding, targeting them with geofencing-triggered notifications, or another 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.

The difference between regular Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

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. While ordinary Bluetooth remains on and in an ‘active’ state permanently, 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, 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 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 Low Energy (BLE) drain phone battery?

Yes, a BLE connection does contribute to smartphone battery consumption, but the amount is so minimal that it isn’t worth worrying about. Even if a user spent a full 24 hours in close proximity to a BLE signal (such as within the space covered by a BLE-powered IPIN system), they would typically only use an extra 1% to 3% of their phone’s battery compared to if they had their Bluetooth switched off. In short, there is no reason to rule out a Bluetooth indoor positioning or indoor navigation system on the basis that users would be negatively affected by it draining their phone’s battery.

How much phone battery does Bluetooth Low Energy drain compared to Bluetooth?

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. A BLE connection may use between 1-3% of a phone’s battery over a 24 hour span, whereas Bluetooth may use between 5-8% of a phone’s battery over the same period (depending on what sort of data was being passed between the two devices). 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.

Does BLE use up phone data?

Another related question when it comes to implementing an IPIN system is whether the repeated ‘pinging’ of a phone 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.