How Does a Wireless Keyboard Work?
Wireless keyboards are becoming an increasingly popular choice as many computer users are taking the cordless way. Wireless technology helps reduce the cable clutter under the desk and allows you to move away from your computer.
In this article, we’ll look at how wireless keyboards work and at the pros and cons of each type of keyboard.
What Is a Wireless Keyboard?
A wireless keyboard, as its name suggests, is a keyboard which works without a cord. Instead, it utilizes one of two popular ways to connect to a computer – RF (radio frequency) and Bluetooth. The standard RF keyboard, however, still relies on the good old USB port for communication with the computer. Bluetooth keyboards normally don’t use a port.
While the wired keyboards (both the USB and PS/2 types) rely on the computer for power, Bluetooth keyboards rely on batteries. Like wireless mice, some keyboards use the standard alkaline AA and AAA batteries. On the other hand, a growing number of models are made with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. While the alkaline batteries last longer, they are also a costlier option as they need to be replaced regularly.
Depending on the model and its strength, wireless keyboards may operate at different ranges. That being said, 30 feet is the most usual range for wireless keyboards. However, all models lose reliability the further away they are from the computer. In reality, due to interference and obstacles, most of the keyboards would have a hard time working at distances greater than 10 feet.
Cordless keyboards also suffer from reliability and latency issues. Back in the early days, those issues were seriously impeding the performance of wireless keyboards. However, with the progress of technology, wireless keyboards became faster and more reliable. Today, even the most affordable models have reliability and latency on par with wired keyboards.
How Does a Wireless Keyboard Work?
There are two main types of wireless keyboards – RF and Bluetooth. If you’ve been wondering about how a wireless keyboard actually works, here’s a quick overview of each major type.
The RF keyboard uses the standard radio frequency to communicate with a computer. Each keyboard has a little radio transmitter built into it which is, like the rest of the keyboard, powered by the onboard batteries. On the other end, there’s a receiver, most commonly a USB receiver.
Despite the fact that they can operate at frequencies anywhere between 27MHz to 2,4GHz, RF wireless keyboards almost exclusively use the 2.4GHz frequency. The reason behind the overwhelming use of the 2.4GHz frequency is that it’s free to use. The downside is that the vast majority of consumer electronics also use it, leading to more interference.
RF keyboards, while still more expensive than their wired counterparts, are quickly catching up. Reliability and latency issues are declining with each passing year. With the advancements in receiver/transmitter technology, interference issues are becoming less and less prominent.
Bluetooth technology has been around since the last decade of the 20th century, though the Bluetooth keyboards only caught up in recent years. Bluetooth is a proprietary technology, controlled by Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), which explains the slightly higher price tags of Bluetooth keyboards.
Bluetooth keyboards, like their RF counterparts, mostly use the standard 2.4GHz frequency for communication. This means they are prone to the same reliability and interference issues as RF keyboards. However, with the improvements in the recent Bluetooth protocols, these issues have been minimized, making Bluetooth keyboards equally reliable.
Similar to the RF keyboards, Bluetooth keyboards have built-in transmitters which emit data. On the other end, a computer will most likely already have a built-in Bluetooth receiver. This means you won’t have to sacrifice a USB port to connect a Bluetooth keyboard.
RF Keyboards vs. Bluetooth Keyboards
Though similar in function and purpose, RF and Bluetooth approaches each come with their pros and cons. Let’s take a quick look at them.
Keyboards based on RF technology tend to be more affordable than Bluetooth keyboards, mainly due to the RF technology being in the public domain.
In terms of battery life, Bluetooth keyboards have a significant edge over their RF cousins. So, if battery longevity is your priority, you might want to consider a Bluetooth keyboard.
Some of the more affordable Bluetooth models are prone to trouble waking up from the sleep mode, while the RF keyboards don’t have such issues. Also, Bluetooth keyboards take more time connecting to a computer at startup.
Both types, however, require either regular battery replacements or charging (if they have Li-ion batteries). Also, they are both prone to interference, though Bluetooth keyboards are slightly more reliable for long-distance communication (10+ feet away from the PC).
The benefits of a wireless keyboard, regardless of the technology it uses, include mobility, portability, and the ability to sit further away from the computer. On the other hand, it needs battery swaps or recharging. Wireless technology is also becoming more reliable and precise, reducing the gap between the wireless and wired keyboards at an ever increasing pace.