Image source: Garmin

What exactly is ANT+ and how is it different from Bluetooth?

If you are really into tracking your fitness or cycling, it is most likely you have come across the term ANT+. But what exactly is it?

ANT is an acronym for “Advanced and Adaptive Network Technology.” Now this in itself is not terribly helpful so put simply, ANT is a wireless protocol for collection and transfer of sensor data. The network exists wherever a group of ANT enabled sensors and receivers can be found. They are separated simply by the physical distance between them.

Nodes in the network can act as transmitters, receivers, or transceivers to route traffic to other nodes. They can also determine when to transmit based on the activity of neighbouring nodes.

The first generation of ANT sensors would not work with all competitor products. The next ANT+ generation follows the same standardised specifications for all devices, so that they work together regardless of the manufacturer. The second generation is also an ultra low power version of the first, developed specifically for health, fitness and sports gadgets.

ANT+ is designed and maintained by the ANT+ Alliance which is owned by Garmin. The wireless protocol is used by a many companies including Garmin, Suunto, Adidas, Fitbit, Nike and others. Because devices are compatible across brands, you can always add to or update your monitoring system.

The ANT+ protocol actually uses the same frequencies as WiFi and Bluetooth, namely 2.4 GHz. The data transfer rate is slower though, but that’s fine as the applications are not as resource intensive. ANT+ was designed for low bit-rate and low power sensor networks. It works on short distances, typically less than 5 feet. This is in contrast with normal Bluetooth, which was designed for relatively high bit-rate, higher battery consumption applications such as those for streaming sound.

As mentioned, the protocol allows many devices to communicate concurrently without interference from each another. For example, an ANT+ enabled bike computer can read data from a power meter, speed/cadence sensor and heart rate sensor at the same time. You can even have multiple displays read the same sensors at once.

You don’t really need to have much technical knowledge about ANT+, so forget about reading a lengthy manual or instruction booklet. All you need to know is – if you see an ANT+ device you can use it with every other device supporting this protocol.

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5 thoughts on “What exactly is ANT+ and how is it different from Bluetooth?

  • Hi – I think my kids would love this. One question regarding the ANT technology and safety. Is it safe to put one of these on your kids? If I want to minimise the use of ANt, do I just not use the app on my phone and therefore it won’t communicate so much with the watch?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hello,

      Consider this educated opinion. Skeptic, engineer, knowledge in the topic (Electronics Engineering), as well some personal research into the physio-biological aspects of EMF/EMI.

      TL;DR:
      – EMF is an actual issue.
      – A lot of EMF is caused by cheap light”bulbs” / “brick” power supplies however. And powerlines.
      – ADHD causes may or not be related to EMF instead of the actual device usage (mini-games, social media). Dopamine related.
      – ANT+ devices seem to have minuscule emissions (1/3rd on log scale of WiFi).
      – Air quality, frequent exercise and activities are better ways to focus effort on.

      Background and general info:
      In contrary to other comments, I do agree that EMF/EMI is a real issue. Both for people and electronics. Also 20 minutes next to cell tower antennas can and does make people sick. Which is why there are exposure limits. The issue with all slow killers, like “low” levels of exposure over time, is they are easy to dismiss as they are hard to research and the research is underfunded. Also anti-lobby, illegal practices, and fake or meaningless research by big corps. This spans multiple areas.

      However most people get too sidetracked focusing on devices that are wireless and expected to emit and forget about cheap (mostly) Chinese power adapters, bulbs, and more that are terrible in this aspect. As well as environment itself (the sheer number of devices and electromagnetic waves emitted by neighbors, in public spaces, towers, “smart” utility meters and more. Further research suggests that the effects of EMF are much more prominent when the body is in regenerative state, aka sleep. I am providing no specific statement on ADHD, as I have insufficient data/research. The systemic dopamine abuse, in terms of what brain perceives as a “reward”, in connection with mobile games and/or social media seems to be the actual reason for ADHD development in many cases (small effort leads to reward, in contrast to long work leading to a reward). When it comes to “short term” effects of EMF in all normal situations, “all” people with strong reactions seem to have placebo effect instead of actual reactions.

      If you want to do something for your kids, rather than worrying about ANT+ devices:
      Get a 200% overrated quiet air purifier, put phone at arms length minimum when sleeping, buy high quality power adapters (UL Listed ideally) and light powersupplies/”bulbs” for use in bedrooms, window-less PC case, and make your kids exercise 4+ days a week, good nutrition incl. protein. Exposure (regardless of how much it affects us) is something you mostly cannot control. Apart from moving to village or rural, or very least suburbs and limiting the devices in the house.

      Specific to ANT+ devices:
      While I do not have sufficient knowledge how power is managed (if at all) on the phone side, ANT+ sensors usually transmit at max of ~4dBm, in contrast to WiFi at ~20dBm (which on routers is always at max, phones may or not vary). This is on a logarithmic scale, of course.

      Use:
      Further as transmit power falls by square of distance, my recommendation would be not to bother with the ANT+ devices (you can always review max transmit power from device specification). The communication from phone to the sensor should be minimal. But to reduce exposure when in use, placing phone 1 to 2.5 meters away should be enough. Again this is only when in use and would not bother about much in comparison to all other devices that you are going to be (by choice or not choice) exposed to.

      Live well.

      Reply
  • Hi Louise,

    Since ANT uses the same frequency as wifi or bluetooth it is just as safe to use as those technologies.

    Regards,
    Adam

    Reply
  • I wouldn’t deem it safe. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth transmit a lot of EMF. Many studies shows that kids nowadays are more prone to develop ADHD due to massive amount of EMF in their environment.

    Reply
    • “I wouldn’t deem it safe. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth transmit a lot of EMF. Many studies shows that kids nowadays are more prone to develop ADHD due to massive amount of EMF in their environment.”

      That’s total BS. What, you read “many studies” on FB? You have NO idea what you are talking about…. It’s low power, low bit rate with a signal that travels no more than 5 feet. Wouldn’t harm a fly.

      Reply

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