Troubleshooting Bluetooth devices and their connection strength

Please Note: Click here for the updated blog post for Troubleshooting Bluetooth devices & their connection strength in Mavericks.

I regularly hook up my MacBook Pro to an Apple wireless keyboard and mouse and often find myself wanting to see if I have a good signal between the two.

OS X has a nice little Bluetooth monitor connection graph which updates live connection info using RSSI (received signal strength indicator). I have found this useful a couple of times to see if, and why, my Bluetooth keyboard is under performing with slow key response and jittery mouse movement.

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

Then follow the below steps to monitor the connection:

Step 1) Open System Preferences on your Mac and choose the ‘Bluetooth’ preference pane.
Step 2) Highlight the Bluetooth device you wish to monitor.
Step 3) ‘Alt/Option’ + ‘Left Click’ on the action cog/gear at the bottom of the preference pane next to the add and delete buttons.
Step 4) Select ‘Monitor Connection RSSI’ from the pull down menu:

 

troubleshooting bluetooth devices and their connection strength

This Monitor Connection window, once open for a few seconds, should start to populate the RSSI scale of your Bluetooth device as shown below:

RSSI scale of your Bluetooth device

 

If you keep the ‘Alt/Option’ key held down, the RSSI value will stay displayed next to your Bluetooth device in the devices list.

You can see that my Bluetooth keyboard connection jumps from between -51 to -54 which is a fairly good wireless connection.

Without going into too much techy talk on how RSSI works, it is basically:

  • the higher the number, the better the connection.

Notice that the numbers are negative, therefore the nearer the number to 0, the better the connection. -51 is better than -54 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

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 the 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:

bluetooth menu bar to check current battery strength

Also try and move your location, in case of any major interference from other radio frequencies in the immediate area.

It’s not easy to isolate an environmental factor with regards to wireless networks, but keep the Monitor connection open as you move your computer to different locations and see if the RSSI reading improves.

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

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 v10.8.2 which was the latest Mac OS release at the time of writing and also using the latest Internal and external Apple keyboards.

If you require help with OS X or iOS devices within your organisation please get in touch, or check out our range of support & consultancy services here.

2 Replies to "Troubleshooting Bluetooth devices and their connection strength"

  • I have been trying, without success, to figure out how to access this feature in 10.9 (actually 10.9.1). They seem to have “simplified” the Bluetooth features in System Preferences and a lot of things no longer seem to work the way they did. Some things just seem plain “gone”…

  • Hi TJ.

    Yes, Mavericks has simplified Bluetooth Preferences along with other GUI settings that Apple want to hide from end users.

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

    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.
    You should then have an entry for the RSSI signal strength of that device along with the Bluetooth MAC address of that device’s Bluetooth card.
    The closer the RSSI is to 0 dBm, the stronger the signal is. (Refer to my basic outline of the range listed above in this blog).

    I’m afraid there’s no pretty graph anymore but you can still monitor the RSSI.

    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.

    Hope this helps!

    Russell.

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