Publication Date: 12/26/17 – The Alexa FAQ series continues with information related to using Alexa with WiFi and Bluetooth connections. It’s going to be a long post, but that’s because this is a big topic. I’ll try to be as concise as I can, but I’m including links to Amazon’s relevant help pages for those who want more information.
Follow the links at the bottom of this post to view all other posts in the series.
Note that the information provided here is accurate as of this writing, on 12/26/17, but is subject to change in the future as the Alexa service and devices evolve.
Alexa Runs On Electricity, WiFi, the Internet and Amazon Servers
Understanding what Alexa is and how it works in general can often clear up confusion and even proactively answer a lot of the questions new users typically have about Alexa software and devices.
The Alexa voice service is a computer program (or group of programs) that runs on Amazon servers which are connected to the internet 24/7/365. It’s kind of like your online email account in that way.
Amazon’s Echo devices connect to the internet via WiFi, and the internet connects them to Alexa. The Alexa voice service is not installed on Echo devices, and all the content you access using Alexa commands remains online: it is not downloaded to your Echo device.
Smart home devices like light switches, electrical outlets and home appliances are also designed to connect to the internet, and from there some of them can connect to the online Alexa service like an Echo device does. Where such a connection exists, the consumer can use Alexa voice commands to control the smart home device.
In addition to smart home devices, Alexa can interact with online databases and services. This is how Alexa is able to do Wikipedia lookups, answer movie questions based on IMDB.com information, provide phone numbers, addresses and operating hours of local businesses based on information from the Yelp! site, and more.
Alexa devices and Alexa compatible devices are all designed to connect to the internet wirelessly, over a WiFi connection. This means the devices won’t work unless an active WiFi connection is available. This is why the very first thing you have to do when setting up a new Alexa device (after plugging it in to an electrical outlet) is connect it to a WiFi network. The WiFi network can be a permanent home or office network, and WiFi hotspots are supported in the US as well.
Click here for Amazon’s Connect Echo to WiFi help topic on its US site. The process described there is the same for Dot and Tap, and it’s very similar for Echo Show and Spot. UK readers click here for the same topic on the UK site.
Click here for Amazon’s Connect Your Echo Device to a Wi-Fi Hotspot help topic on its US site.
WiFi Connects Devices To Alexa, Bluetooth Connects Devices To Each Other
In the most basic terms, WiFi is a wireless technology that connects devices to a network and Bluetooth is a wireless technology that connects devices to each other. A good analogy for this is using headphones with a phone while listening to streaming radio or watching videos on YouTube. Your phone connects to the internet over WiFi to access the streaming radio or YouTube videos. Your headphones connect to the phone to carry the sound to your ears, but they can’t connect directly to YouTube or the streaming radio service: the phone has to provide the audio to pipe through the headphones. The connection between your headphones and the phone is like Bluetooth, connecting one device (headphones) to another (the phone). In the case of wireless headphones, that connection may literally be a Bluetooth connection!
Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Show, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap and Echo Spot all have Bluetooth connection capability, aka “Bluetooth pairing”. This means other devices that also have Bluetooth pairing capability, like headphones, speakers and voice-activated remote controls, can be connected to those Amazon devices via Bluetooth.
An Alexa device Bluetooth pairing can be outgoing, which means the Alexa device is sending its audio or commands to a separate Bluetooth-capable device. Examples of this would be connecting external speakers or Bluetooth wireless headphones to your Echo Dot so that when Alexa plays music or audio books, you can hear them through the speaker or headphones.
The Alexa device Bluetooth pairing can also be incoming, which means the separate Bluetooth-capable device is sending audio or commands to the Alexa device. Examples of this would be using Echo Buttons to play games on your Echo, or playing music on your phone or tablet and having it sent over the Bluetooth connection to your Echo’s speaker. Because the Echo device is only acting as a speaker in this type of setup, Alexa voice commands to control audio playback are limited to play, pause, resume, stop, skip and restart. With incoming Bluetooth connections Alexa has no access to, or control over, the software that’s actually playing the music or accessing the music library on the paired device, so there are no Alexa commands you can use to interact with that software or library. Alexa can only control the ‘stream’ of audio being sent to the Echo device speaker.
Click here for Amazon’s Connect Your Echo Device to Bluetooth Speakers help topic on its US site. The process described there is the same for other outgoing Bluetooth connections, such as to headphones. UK readers click here for the same topic on the UK site.
Click here for Amazon’s Pair Your Mobile Device with Echo help topic on its US site. This is the process you’ll use for incoming Bluetooth connections, where you want audio from another device to be sent through the Echo device’s speakers. UK readers click here for the same topic on the UK site.
Note that Bluetooth as it relates to Alexa Drop-In and Alexa Multi-Room Music will be covered when those topics are covered in this series. For the time being, be aware that Alexa devices can only have one active Bluetooth connection at a time. While Bluetooth devices should reconnect automatically whenever they’re within range of a paired Alexa device, only one pairing can be active at any one time.
Enjoy your new Alexa device, and be sure to come back here to follow the rest of this Alexa FAQ series.
I’ll be continuing the series with posts to cover the basics of Alexa calling and messaging, using Alexa devices as an intercom system, security and privacy concerns, Alexa music playback commands, using Alexa to control video on your TV, a look at the various Alexa devices and gadgets now available as well as the differences among them, the Alexa Flash Briefing, Alexa utilities like reminders, alarms and calendar integration, and a sort of catch-all mailbag FAQ at the end.
Click here to subscribe, so you’ll be notified when each new post is published. You’ll also want to bookmark any posts in the series you might need to refer to frequently in the future, and use the handy social media links at the bottom of this post to share with others who’ve received (or you know will be receiving!) Alexa devices.
Click here to read part 1, Alexa Basics For Those Giving or Getting An Alexa Device.
Click here to read part 2, Six Things To Try With Alexa.
Click here to read part 4, Alexa Privacy and Security.
Click here to read part 5, Alexa Music Commands and Services.
Click here to read part 6, Alexa Calling and Messaging.
Click here to read part 7, An Alexa Intercom System with Alexa Drop-In.
Click here to read part 8, Alexa Alarms, Reminders and Timers.
Click here to read part 9, Using Alexa To Control Your TV.
Click here to read part 10, Alexa Flash Briefing
Click here to read part 11, Alexa Calendar Integration
Click here to read part 12, Comparing Alexa Devices.
Click here to read part 13, Alexa FAQ Conclusion: Mailbag, Alexa Communities.