Mavericks Tip: Troubleshooting Bluetooth devices & their connection strength

Back in February last year, I blogged about ‘Troubleshooting Bluetooth devices and their connection strength in Mountain Lion‘.

This is an updated version of that blog for Mavericks as TJ Luoma kindly commented on my blog to inform me that these features have changed in Mavericks (OS X 10.9), prompting me to update my blog. Thanks TJ!

So, to monitor and troubleshoot Bluetooth connections in Mavericks, here’s how!

Mavericks has simplified Bluetooth Preferences along with other GUI settings that Apple prefer end users not to play with.

The good news is that as long as you know where to look, you can still access most of these options.

To monitor a Bluetooth connection, a Bluetooth device must be enabled and currently connected to your Mac.

Then follow the below steps to monitor the signal strength of that connection:

Step 1) If you hold down the Option/Alt key and then click on the Bluetooth Icon in the Apple Menu Bar, you can select the device you wish to monitor:

bluetooth devices mavericks

Step 2) You should then have an entry for the, RSSI signal  strength (Received signal strength indicator) of that device, along with the Bluetooth MAC address of that device’s Bluetooth card:

rssi signal strength

There is no Monitor Connection window showing a graph of the bluetooth signal that was available in Mountain Lion, but at least you can still monitor the RSSI.

There are third-party utilities you can use to monitor all wireless communication including Bluetooth. For example iStumbler:

istumbler

Without going into too much techie talk on how RSSI works, basically the higher the number, the better the connection.

Notice that the numbers are negative, therefore the nearer the number is to 0, the better the connection.

-51 is better than -55 for example.

Below is a basic outline of the ranges that represent a good to bad connection:

  •     -110 and lower = Very poor connection and likely to be unusable
  •     -100 to -109 =  Poor connection
  •     -70 to -99 = Good connection
  •     -40 to -55 = Very strong connection

You can also select ‘Create Diagnostics Report on the Desktop’ from the Bluetooth menu bar after holding down the Option/Alt key to generate a list of log files on your Bluetooth performance:

create Diagnostics Report

To finish, I’d like to give you a couple of suggestions on how to improve your wireless connection, if the RSSI reading is poor.

Check the obvious first.

Low batteries are the most likely reason for a poor Bluetooth signal.
You can use the Bluetooth menu bar to check your current battery percentage before trying a new set of batteries:

improve wireless connection

Also, move location in case of any major interference from other radio frequencies in the immediate area.
It’s not easy to isolate an environment factor with regards to wireless networks, but move your computer to different locations and see if the RSSI reading improves.

I hope that this blog has helped those like me that use Bluetooth devices to improve their wireless connections.

To learn how to support and troubleshoot OS X Mavericks, come on our OS X Support Essentials 10.9 course!

Disclaimer:

While the author has taken care to provide our readers with accurate information, please use your discretion before acting upon information based on the blog post. Amsys will not compensate you in any way whatsoever if you ever happen to suffer a loss/inconvenience/damage because of/while making use of information in this blog.

This feature has been tested using OS X v10.9.1 which was the latest Mac OS release at the time of writing.

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6 Responses to “Mavericks Tip: Troubleshooting Bluetooth devices & their connection strength”

  1. bunnyhero says:

    the range for -56 to -69 seems to be missing in your chart. otherwise, great article! i never knew about this. thank you.

  2. Thanks bunnyhero for your reply, glad you found it interesting.

    I didn’t want to go into too much detail on RSSI, Signal Strength and Signal noise in this blog as this can be rather technical, so i just put in a range of strengths and not the whole range to give people a general idea.

    56 to -69 would equate to a strong connection, being obviously not as good as the -40 to -55 range but better than the -70 to -99 range.

    To fully understand how good your connection is, you need to note down both the Signal Strength (RSSI) and Signal/Noise (S/N) numbers, for example Signal = -50 dBm, Noise = -90 dBm.

    You can then calculate your Signal minus Noise (SNR) which is Signal Strength minus Signal Noise. For example:

    -50 dBm – (-90 dBm) = 40 dB SNR.

    You can now evaluate your signal quality as below:

    40dB+ SNR = Excellent signal
    25dB to 40dB SNR = Very good signal
    15dB to 25dB SNR = Low signal
    10dB to 15dB SNR = Very low signal
    5dB to 10dB SNR = No signal

    Hope this makes sense!

    Russ

  3. len303 says:

    Mavericks battery monitoring / reporting software is broken , there are widespread reports well in to the thousands now. Are apple doing anything about this issue? Not as far as their Support forums tell.

    The problem is affecting both Main laptop batteries charge and cycle reporting and foremost Wireless Battery monitoring with its mini BlueTooth keyboard.

    Apple have not been any help in curing this widespread issue and the last long waited 10.9.1 update had no effect. Complete reinstallation No effect ,New User accounts No effect , SMC and power resets again No effect.

    Mavericks is simply full of bugs / cross incompatibility , with this being one of the most annoying and time consuming issues Iv had to face on Apple Hardware for 25 years – it is reaching unforgivable status with many.

  4. dotkx says:

    I recently bought an Mac Mini and for some reason it will not find any bluetooth devices at all. Any advice? Thank you

  5. Hello dotkx.

    Your mac should automatically discover any available Bluetooth devices in range simply by opening Bluetooth preferences and turning Bluetooth on.

    Apple have a very good support document at http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1153 for Bluetooth assistance so i would suggest you see if there is anything here you have not already tried.

    Mainly, make sure there are no known Bluetooth or wireless devices in range apart from your Mac Mini and the device you are trying to pair with. Perhaps even move your Mac Mini to another location to see if this helps.
    Refer to http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1365 for assistance on this.

    Since you mentioned you are using a Mac Mini there is a chance this could be an issue related to the Mac Mini’s compact design.

    The shielding applied internally on the Bluetooth module and the location of the bluetooth antennas do unfortunately make the Mac Mini more susceptible to Bluetooth interference, especially any USB 3.0 devices and cabling.
    This may result in you experiencing diminished Bluetooth performance or even no Bluetooth connection, even at very short range.
    So perhaps try unplugging any additional peripherals apart from your usb keyboard and mouse.

    If you have no luck with all this, you are more than welcome to contact our Apple Authorised Service Centre at http://www.amsys.co.uk/mac-repairs/ , or you can contact us on 020 8660 9999 or email us at support@amsys.co.uk

    Best of luck!

    Russ

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