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Connection process

In the previous lesson, we covered how the advertisement process in Bluetooth LE is a way for the peripheral to make its presence known so it can be discovered by a central, and in the end, establish a connection with it.


Establishing a connection requires two devices, one acting as a peripheral that is currently advertising, and one acting as a central that is currently scanning. When a central device picks up an advertisement packet from a peripheral device, it can initiate a connection. Usually, this involves scanning the contents of the advertisement packet, and then deciding whether or not to initiate a connection based on that. When the central sends a connection request, the peripheral and central have established a bi-directional connection (connection-oriented) channel.

As we can see in the figure above, a peripheral that is sending out advertisements that are connectable will always have a short RX window after every advertisement, which is used to listen for incoming connection requests. We call it a connection request, but in reality, the peripheral can’t choose whether to accept or reject the connection request. It has to always accept the connection request, unless it is using an accept list filter. Later, at any point in time, it may choose to disconnect from the central if it doesn’t want to stay connected.

More on this

Using an accept list filter, formerly known as whitelisting, is a way the peripheral can limit which devices are allowed to send it a connection request. This will be covered in lesson 5.

During the connection

After the peripheral successfully receives the connection request packet, the two devices are in a connection. When a connection is entered, the devices will no longer use the advertising channels (channel 37, 38 and 39), but start using the data channels (channels 0 to 36). To reduce interference and improve throughput during a connection, Bluetooth LE uses channel hopping, meaning the channel used for data transmission is changed frequently. This way, if they are located in an environment that has a lot of noise on some channels, the messages will be retransmitted on another channel in the next connection interval. To ensure data integrity, all packets transmitted over Bluetooth LE will be retried infinitely until an acknowledgment is received or the connection is terminated.

The nature of a Bluetooth LE connection is a main factor in how the devices achieve such low power consumption. In a connection, both devices spend most of their time sleeping. To accomplish this, they agree on how often they will wake up to talk. Otherwise, they turn off the radio, set a timer and go to sleep. The time they agree on sleeping is known as the connection interval, and is set in the initial connection, while the connection event occurs every connection interval when they wake up to talk.


Connection interval: The interval at which two devices in a connection wake up to exchange data.
Connection event: Occurs every connection interval, when the central sends a packet to the peripheral

The following figure shows what a typical connection looks like. Both the central and the peripheral are waking up every connection interval for the connection events and transmitting data.

The connection interval is initially set by the central in the connection request packet, but it can be changed later in the connection. The two devices can send many packets every connection interval if they need to send a lot of data, but when they stop sending data, they have to wait for the next connection event to send more data. Even if there is no useful data to send, the peers need to send empty packets to sync their clocks. If you want to send more data than there is time for in one connection interval, it will be split over several connection intervals.


When two devices are connected, they will remain connected forever if nothing happens. There are two ways that a connection can be terminated, meaning the devices disconnect:

  • Disconnected by application
  • Disconnected by supervision timeout

Disconnected by application

If either of the devices want to, they can send a termination packet that will disconnect the device. This can, for example, be done because a device no longer wishes to be connected to the other device, but it will also happen if there is something wrong with the connection. E.g. if a device you are connected to is claiming to be a previously connected device, but it is not able to sign the packets with the correct encryption keys. The termination packet will contain a field called “disconnect reason” which will say something about why the devices disconnected. Such as, whether it was the user who wanted to disconnect, or if there was an issue with the stack.

Disconnected by supervision timeout

The other reason a device may disconnect is if it stops responding to packets. There can be several reasons for this. Either the application on the connected device crashed and reset (which is not too uncommon, especially during the development phase), the connected device ran out of battery, or the connected device was taken out of radio range. The amount of time it takes before the connection times out is set by the connection supervision timeout parameter, which we will discuss in more detail in the next topic.

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