Home / Opinions / Bluetooth 4.1: what is it and why should you care?

Bluetooth 4.1: what is it and why should you care?

Gordon Kelly



Last week the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced the adoption of updates to the Bluetooth 4.0 standard that shift it to version 4.1. A point iteration sounds uninteresting, but it is the first significant update since Bluetooth 4.0 was introduced back in 2010 and comes with a great weight of expectation.

The job of Bluetooth 4.1 is to drive the ‘Internet of Things’ (Io, namely the thousands of smart, web connected devices – from fridges to toothbrushes – that are expected to enter our lives over the next decade. This includes smartwatches, a continuing topic of interest among manufacturers and tech enthusiasts.

Bluetooth 4.1 vs Bluetooth 4.0: What is new?

There are three major improvements at the heart of the Bluetooth 4.1 specification:

1. Coexistence

Bluetooth and 4G (LTE) famously don’t get on: their signals interfere degrading one another’s performance and draining battery life. Bluetooth 4.1 eliminates this by coordinating its radio with 4G automatically so there is no overlap and both can perform at their maximum potential. Given most phones will come with 4G next year this is a vital improvement.

2. Smart connectivity

Rather than carry a fixed timeout period, Bluetooth 4.1 will allow manufacturers to specify the reconnection timeout intervals for their devices. This means devices can better manage their power and that of the device they are paired to by automatically powering up and down based on a bespoke power plan.

In short: devices are no longer all treated the same and the randomness of Bluetooth connections / disconnections and the power drain this causes should reduce dramatically.

3. Improved Data Transfer

Bluetooth 4.1 devices can act as both hub and end point simultaneously. This is hugely significant because it allows the host device to be cut out of the equation and for peripherals to communicate independently.

For example, whereas previously a smartwatch would need to talk to your phone to get data from a heart monitor, now the smartwatch and heart monitor can talk directly saving your phone’s battery and then upload their compiled results directly to your phone. This is crucial to the Internet of Things concept: peripherals become independent and can build their own networks before bringing the collation of all their data to you.

Bluetooth SIG

What does Bluetooth 4.1 mean for developers?

The combination of these three elements potentially transforms the devices developers can build. A scenario would be an LTE capable phone that operates without any interference while using a Bluetooth connection, automatically saves power disconnecting and reconnecting to Bluetooth peripherals as necessary and is not needed for these peripherals to communicate together before they send their aggregated data back to the handset on demand.

Crucially, Bluetooth 4.1 is an upgradeable path for all existing Bluetooth 4.0 devices as well. The changes can be made (at the manufacturer’s discretion) through patches applied over the air. Consequently devices you already own may be about to get a lot smarter.

Like all other Bluetooth iterations, Bluetooth 4.1 will also be fully backwards compatible with earlier versions, but you will need communication between 4.1 devices to see its benefits.

Bluetooth 4.1: What are the catches?

While Bluetooth 4.1 greatly expands the potential of interconnected devices, there are a few elements which cause some concern.

Notably, since Bluetooth notoriously operates at unregulated frequencies, v4.1 lays the foundations for the creation of dedicated channels. The most sensible route will be using IPv6 at the sensor level, but this has yet to be implemented and there is no timeframe currently for doing so.

The other downer is the surprising laxity around the attainment of Bluetooth 4.1 status. For the first time since the adoption of Bluetooth 2.0 EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) there are no mandatory features that must be claimed to use the Bluetooth 4.1 specification.

This means manufacturers won’t have to implement ‘Bluetooth Smart’ low energy (LE) functionality or even EDR to get 4.1 branding. The upgrade path from the more strictly observed Bluetooth 4.0 should minimalise shoddy upgrades, but new 4.1 devices could potentially be lacking in some crucial features with no easy way to check.

The logic is likely to be so developers don’t need to burden their devices with anything they don’t need, but it does little to inspire confidence when the standard can be inconsistent.

Fitbit Force

When can I get it?

The first Bluetooth 4.1 patches for 4.0 devices will – depending on a manufacturer’s motivation to upgrade – start arriving in early 2014. Upgrades to influential devices like the iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy range and Google’s Nexus lines should drive demand for Bluetooth 4.1 enabled peripherals and we would also expect early adoption in the fitness sector (with devices like the Fitbit Force - above).

SIG itself says it expects explosive growth in Bluetooth devices over the next five years and predicts it will ship over 4.5 billion chipsets.

“[With 4.1] We updated the Bluetooth specification to address this projected growth, making changes to give developers more control in assigning a role to their product, limiting interference with other wireless technologies, and allowing Bluetooth Smart products to exchange data faster and maintain connections with less manual intervention,” said Suke Jawanda, chief marketing officer of Bluetooth SIG.

“These updates reflect the demand we see in the market. We will continue to sculpt Bluetooth wireless technology to extend its critical role in enabling the Internet of Things and ensure it is the very best solution for OEMs, developers and, ultimately, consumers."

Should Bluetooth 4.1 devices perform as expected, we can safely say this is marketing rhetoric which should live up to the hype.

Next, read 802.11ac vs 802.11n: what's the difference?


December 10, 2013, 1:10 pm

Hi Gordon
Hope this isnt a daft question but do customers need NEW devices or does their current BlueTooth get the upgrade patch?
For example, does the iPhone5 get upgraded to 4.1 over the air? And would speakers for another example also have to have USB upgrades of some sort?


December 10, 2013, 1:30 pm

Yes. Any product with Bluetooth 4.0 can be upgraded to 4.1. That's not a guarantee that it will be, of course, but I'd be surprised if Apple didn't update.


February 24, 2014, 6:02 am

However the new bluetooth lacks few things which we want..

I am tired of manufacturer allowing us to connect only limited pairing of devices.

1. Pairing of maximum devices should be allowed
2. Pairing multiple devices at the same time and allowing to run them at the same time.. This may also lead to streaming to multiple devices at the same time.. and not be limited to one only
3. Allowing internet access to and fro our desktop PC's.. I want BT to access my desktop internet connection to be used on my phone.. Yes network internet is costly so i prefer this way.. Though wifi is there BT will be smarter
4. Having high end audio codecs is a must.. Dont they know the demand and need to have high quality codecs? M surprised why BT dint focus this in BT4.1... Manufacturers are looking for BT alternatives to overcome this issue


April 2, 2014, 12:01 am

So will my antique Mac laptop running Bluetooth 1.9.5 connect with my girlfriend's new Bluetooth 4.0 speakers?


August 27, 2014, 2:45 am

Hey Andy, I notice the date of your article and specifically what was mentioned about smartwatches and communication between devices. Why is it that new devices such as Android Wear watches (LG's G Watch and Samsung's Gear Live) are being released with support for Bluetooth 4.0 but no mention of 4.1? is it due to constraints with the SoC? I note they're both sporting the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400.


October 30, 2014, 4:44 pm

All 4 of these already exist. Connecting multiple devices is called multipoint and your device needs to support it. The Logitech UE Boombox is one such example, several people can pair their phones simultaneously: http://amzn.com/B0094S35QU
For desktop access, there are apps for that, but I'm not clear why your wifi connection on your phone is not good enough. It's simpler, faster, and drains your batter much less.
High end audio codecs: you have AptX. Google it. Both source and destination devices must have AptX but it's about CD quality sound. Most sound bars have this. iPhones don't, but if you have a Galaxy phone S3 or later you can try it out at any Best Buy store. Other alternatives have been implemented in things like wireless earbuds, like the Shift technology in the JayBird Bluebuds X buds. That particular one requires their free app to work (AptX doesn't need an app), but they all use Bluetooth for communicating.

Nikolaos Skordilis

November 17, 2014, 9:48 am

New Bluetooth versions offer backwards compatibility, which means that they can cooperate with older spec Bluetooth devices but only at the lower spec of the pair. So in the above case the Bluetooth 4.0 speakers would work in 2.0 or older mode.

Bill McMullen

November 25, 2014, 1:48 pm

I have a Samsung Note4 which has bluetooth 4.1, now when I connect to my car to play my music (from Google play) it is not compatible with the Gracenote technology which reads & displays the artist information along with the cover art however turning on Pandora through bluetooth it does display the artist info, any thought ideas ?? Thank You billymac ...

Liu Joe (风魂依)

May 7, 2015, 4:14 am

Hi Gordon, I learned a lot from your article. One thing I want to make sure is that if my smartphone has Bluetooth 4.1 and so do my a few Bluetooth speakers. Then can I use the phone to contrel all of the speakers?

ron davison

December 29, 2015, 11:06 pm

Why Not adopt a Letter designation behind the 4.1-->4.1x...4.1a, 4.1b...4.1n, 4.1i...

for each natural grouping of minimum (and/or maximum) features to be certified to give some clarity? Perhaps allowing dual standards across different wireless needs

4.1ab...So a base station, gateway, phone, computer, may need more functionality than connecting devices, .Leveraging hardware makes sense to a point. A simple BLE module for local devices to offload work so base station can beam form to across room with all the resources for another purpose, yet still deliver messages and low power-BW sensor data.

This would give consumers clarity as to feature verification towards informed decisions
Any Bluetooth SIG group thoughts ?

M Poulose Mathew

August 5, 2016, 11:21 am

is BT v 4.1 compatible with HFP, HSP, A2DP. Will this connect with a BT v 4.0 device

comments powered by Disqus