Bluetooth, GPS, now UWB. What’s Better and What’s the Difference?

By: Tile
Tile Tips10.21.2021

Bluetooth and GPS are the two current leading forms of technology for tracking and navigation. They're both being used in tracker devices to help people pinpoint the location of items like keys, phones, wallets, and more. But what's the difference between GPS and Bluetooth, and which type of tracker is best? And now what’s all the hype about this new tracking technology called UWB? This guide will cover all you need to know about the big three.

What is Bluetooth and How Does it Work?

Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology, used for sending signals and data between devices over short distances via radio waves. It's found in all sorts of devices, from headphones to smartphones, and there are different types of Bluetooth, like BLE, which stands for Bluetooth Low Energy and uses less energy but basically works the same way as regular Bluetooth.

The key feature of Bluetooth is that it only works at short distances. For example, the Tile Pro has a Bluetooth range of 400 feet, so it can only be detected by other Bluetooth-compatible devices within that range. This means that if a Bluetooth tracker is very far away, you won't be able to connect with Bluetooth and find it right away.

The short-range nature of Bluetooth can be seen as a drawback, but Bluetooth trackers have many great advantages. They're highly effective for finding things nearby, giving you the location of items that need tracking, and they also have impressive battery life. Plus, Bluetooth trackers tend to be smaller and more versatile than GPS trackers, making them significantly more affordable so you can track multiple things. 

What Types of Things to Track with Bluetooth

Since Bluetooth is a short-range technology, it's best to use Bluetooth trackers to find things that are usually nearby, in the home or around the office. You can attach a Bluetooth tracker to your keys, for example, to find them in the morning when you can't remember where you left them, or slide a Tile Slim into a wallet to save time and track it down easily.

What GPS is and How it Works

Next, let's look at GPS technology. First, what does GPS mean? It stands for global positioning system, and GPS is generally used more for navigation purposes than tracking down individual items. You can use a GPS device on your phone or in your car to help you get around for example.

GPS technology involves the use of satellites that are orbiting the Earth around us right now, sending out signals to the ground below. GPS devices can collect those signals and make use of triangulation algorithms to pinpoint locations quite accurately. 

Thanks to the global nature of GPS satellites, you can use GPS devices anywhere around the world, as long as you have a signal. This means that there are no range limitations, and GPS trackers can track down items that are far away or even on the other side of the planet. They also offer real-time tracking and are well-suited to certain cases and situations.

What Types of Things to Track with GPS?

GPS trackers are a good option for tracking down things that are more likely to be located far from you. For example, they're commonly used as pet trackers. So, if a pet runs away with a GPS tracker on its collar, you can use it to find them, wherever they go. You can also use a GPS tracker for things like cars and bikes that could get stolen and taken to faraway locations.

What is UWB? 

Contrary to what we’ve been reading lately, Ultra-Wideband technology is not really a new technology! You can trace it back as far as 2002; even the U.S. Military used UWB technology in radars for a short time. Ultra wideband technology is now newly available for use in smartphones, which is why it’s such a hot topic at the moment and being released as a new feature in Android phones and other smartphone makers are opening up APIs in order to utilize ultra wideband technology. It is also referred to as ultra-wide band and ultraband. We’re going to stick with the easiest and most common, UWB. UWB uses short wave radio frequency to communicate with your devices. Because it can transmit data across short distances, the way it determines exact location is by measuring how long it takes for a radio pulse to travel between devices. It is similar to Bluetooth in this way, but it is more precise and reliable if you’re looking for something nearby. 

GPS vs. Bluetooth vs. UWB Differences and Best Choice

So, should you opt for a Bluetooth tracker or GPS tracker? Well, there are several key differences between the two:

  • Technology - As we can see, Bluetooth, GPS, and Ultra wideband use different different types of technology. GPS involves satellites and operates globally, while the other two are different types of short-range radio wave systems for finding and connecting devices that are physically near to each other. 

  • Range - Bluetooth has a short range of approximately a few hundred feet, while GPS trackers can operate at great distances and track down items on the other side of the globe. Bluetooth offers a longer finding range to get you near your Tile, while UWB offers highly precise visual finding to get you directly to your lost item. 

  • Use - Both GPS and Bluetooth trackers are usually quite simple to set up. So there's not a big difference between how to work a GPS and how to enable Bluetooth, although GPS trackers can sometimes be more complex. UWB and Bluetooth work best together vs. one or the other.

  • Battery - Bluetooth trackers use much less battery power than GPS trackers. Indeed, Bluetooth trackers can run for years on the same battery, while GPS trackers can run out of power in a matter of days and need frequent charging.

  • Size - Bluetooth trackers can be very small, slim, and lightweight, like the Tile Sticker or Tile Slim. GPS trackers tend to be bigger and bulkier overall, due to the extra tech they require.

  • Price/Value - Bluetooth trackers tend to be more affordable when compared to GPS trackers and can be a more cost-effective choice for tracking everyday items and essentials.

Overall, the technologies all have their pros and cons. They each have best-use scenarios and can appeal to different people in a multitude of ways. It's important to think about what you want to track and how you'll be using your tracker in order to pick the right type of technology and tracker model for your uses.