Bluetooth Concepts

This section introduces the network technologies related to Bluetooth, including the core architecture and components in Bluetooth specifications.

Core architecture

The core system of Bluetooth is composed of Host, Controller, and Host Controller Interface (HCI). Host is used for application development, while Controller is for message sending and receiving, physical connection management, and other basic features which are implemented by dedicated Bluetooth chip manufacturers.

The original design is to run the Host and the Controller independently on two chips or even systems, and they can communicate through the HCI. In this way, it is easier to replace and upgrade either module. Although there are many chips that put both the Host and the Controller together, they still follow this architecture, except that the HCI is changed from a hardware communication port to a software one.

The Bluetooth LE protocol stack includes Physical Layer (PHY), Lin Layer (LL), Logical Link Control and Adaptation Protocol (L2CAP), Attribute Protocol (ATT), Security Manager Protocol (SMP), Generic Attribute Profile (GATT), and Generic Access Profile (GAP), as shown in Figure 7.12.

Figure 7.12. Protocol stack layers of Bluetooth LE
  • Physical Layer (PHY) specifies the wireless frequency band and modulation mode used by Bluetooth LE. How the PHY performs determines the power consumption, sensitivity, and selectivity of the Bluetooth LE chip and influences other radio frequency indicators.

  • Link Layer (LL) only sends or receives data, leaving data analysis to GAP or ATT at the upper layer. LL is at the core of the Bluetooth LE protocol stack, as it decides which radio frequency channel to choose for communication, how to identify data packets transmitted through the air, when to send data packets, how to ensure data integrity, and how to manage and control links, how to receive and retransmit ACKs, etc.

  • Host Controller Interface (HCI) provides a means of communication between the Host and the Controller. This layer can be implemented either by a hardware interface such as UART or USB in dual-chip architectures, or through a software API in single-chip architectures.

  • Logical Link Control and Adaptation Protocol (L2CAP) provides connection-oriented and connectionless data services to upper layer protocols with protocol multiplexing capability, segmentation and reassembly operation, and group abstractions. It also permits per-channel flow control and retransmission.

  • Attribute Protocol (ATT) defines data for user commands and command operations, such as reading or writing certain data. Bluetooth LE introduces the concept of attributes, which are used to describe data in a piece. Besides, ATT also defines the ATT commands that data can use. It is the layer that you will most frequently deal with.

  • Security Manager Protocol (SMP) is responsible for the encryption and security of Bluetooth LE connections, without affecting user experience.

  • Generic Attribute Profile (GATT) standardises the data content in attributes, and use the concept of groups to classify and manage attributes. Although the BLE protocol stack can operate without GATT, its interoperability will be compromised. It is GATT and a rich set of profiles that frees Bluetooth LE from the compatibility problem faced by other wireless protocols such as ZigBee.

  • Generic Access Profile (GAP) defines effective data packets in LL, offering an easiest way to analyse LL payload. It is limited to features such as broadcasting, scanning, and initiating connections.

Roles of Bluetooth

Bluetooth can be an Advertiser, a Scanner, or an Initiator. A master device plays the role of Initiator and Scanner, while a slave device plays the role of Advertiser.

Bluetooth communication refers to the communication between two or more Bluetooth devices. It only occurs between masters and slaves, as slave devices cannot communicate directly.

  • Master mode

    Master (or "central") devices scan for slaves and initiate connection. In theory, if Bluetooth LE Mesh is not used to enable many-to-many device communication, only piconets can be established among devices.

    A device with Bluetooth technology can switch between master mode and slave mode. It normally works in slave mode and waits for master devices to connect. When needed, it switches to master mode and calls other devices. To initiate a call in master mode, a Bluetooth device needs to know the Bluetooth address and pairing password of the other device, and start calling after pairing successfully.

  • Slave mode

    Slave (or "peripheral") devices advertise and wait for connections. Once connected, slaves can exchange data with the master.

In summary, a master can search for slaves and actively connects with them, while a slave cannot initiate any connection but to wait to be connected.

Building Bluetooth networks

Now that we've learned about master and slave, let's take a look at how to build Bluetooth networks. According to topological structures, Bluetooth networks can be divided into piconets, scatternets, and mesh networks.


Every time a Bluetooth wireless link is formed, it is within a context of piconet. A piconet consists of two or more devices that occupy the same physical channel, which means the devices are synchronised according to a common clock and frequency hopping sequence. Figure 7.13 shows the piconet topology.

Figure 7.13. Piconet topology


A scatternet is formed when multiple piconets overlap. Figure 7.14 shows the scatternet topology.

Each piconet that constitutes a scatternet maintains its own master. The master of one piconet may act as the slave of another piconet at the same time. In Figure 7.14, the mobile phone is the master of the left piconet as well as the slave of the right piconet.

Figure 7.14. Scatternet topology


Bluetooth Mesh was born after Bluetooth 4.0. It is a Bluetooth LE network used to establish many-to-many device communication. It allows the creation of large-scale networks, where dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of Bluetooth mesh devices can transmit data with each other. Bluetooth mesh is not the focus of this book, so you only need to know its definition for now.