If you've recently purchased a new car—or even if you have a luxury car that's many years old—chances are you have Bluetooth hands-free calling connectivity. And even if you have an older vehicle, it's a tech-forward safety device that you definitely should be considering if you ever use the phone while driving.
What Bluetooth allows, after you properly connect your phone with your system, is completely wireless access to calling functions from your phone through your vehicle—via the dash, a control screen, steering-wheel buttons, or voice commands. In theory, it's easier as you'll keep both hands on the wheel and won't need to look down to dial numbers, hold a handset to your ear, or do things like change the volume.
What is Bluetooth? It's at once both a wireless standard and a communications protocol, using an established set of hardware and encoding to send calls and data back and forth between your car and handset, securely and reliably.
Using frequencies from 2.4 GHz to 2.485 Ghz, Bluetooth hardware broadcasts at a relatively low power—providing a range of just a few feet (or up to 100 meters in some cases), while saving battery power in handsets and reducing exposure to potentially harmful radiation.
In order to use your handset (like an iPhone or Android smartphone) with a vehicle's Bluetooth system, you'll need to 'pair' with the system—essentially granting approval for two-way communication and remote operation. Once a device has been paired once, the system will remember it, automatically connecting each time.
The technology dates back to 1994, when engineers at Ericcson in Sweden invented it and then helped make it an open industry standard. The first mobile phone with Bluetooth shipped in 2000, while the first hands-free Bluetooth in-car connectivity followed a year later.
Over the years, major versions of Bluetooth have made the technology faster, more reliable, and capable of interfacing with different kinds of devices. Specialized protocols for music streaming, text messages, and exchanging files have also made hands-free use of apps like Pandora quite seamless, using the smartphone's connection, and quite a few in-car systems now include the capability to display or rear text messages and post standard replies