Currently used in 8.2 billion devices around the world, right from smartphones and laptops to beacons and cars, Bluetooth has become one of those unsung heroes that has helped us get through our daily lives. This is set to grow rapidly in the coming years as the Internet of Things phenomenon kicks off. Cisco has predicted that over 50 billion of these smart devices will be in use by 2020, with the Bluetooth Special Interests Group (SIG) claiming that up to one-third of these devices will feature Bluetooth.
And given the growing importance of Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices in our lives, Bluetooth SIG recently announced the first major update to the Bluetooth standard since 2009 – Bluetooth 5.
While the actual technology won’t be rolled out until late 2016 or early 2017, the recent announcement made by Bluetooth SIG gave an intriguing glimpse into the capabilities that Bluetooth 5 holds. Not only has it brought forth some significant improvements to the existing specification in terms of speed, range, broadcasting capacity, but has also changed the way Bluetooth is marketed.
Bluetooth SIG drops ‘v’ and ‘.’ from the naming
As you may have already noticed, Bluetooth SIG has decided to drop its reference to the version (v) and point number (.0) in its advertising. For example the last iterative update to Bluetooth is referred to as Bluetooth v4.2. This new approach to naming is aimed at simplifying Bluetooth’s marketing by effectively communicating user benefits, and making it easier to convey major technical updates to its users.
In this blog we discuss in detail about how Bluetooth 5 will help upgrade current IoT applications and boost beacon adoption among businesses.
1) Empowers Bluetooth to replace Wi-Fi as the ultimate IoT communication standard
According to the recent announcement made by the Bluetooth SIG group, Bluetooth 5 will offer four times the range of its predecessors. This extended range also means that Bluetooth will now be able to replace WiFi as a communication technology for most IoT applications.
For those of you who are new to the IoT world, here’s a little background – in the ever evolving and fluctuating world of IoT, it’s difficult to predict which technology will become the most widely adopted and which ones will turn obsolete. Therefore, many smart devices (or connected devices) come with multiple options for connectivity. For example, the highly popular Nest smart thermostat currently supports three communication standards: Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and BLE.
However, with Bluetooth 5 things will change. This new standard will increase the range of communication by a factor of four, thus providing users with full control over their smart home products, right from lightbulbs to smart locks, from anywhere in their home. Thus, Bluetooth 5 effectively removes the main advantage of using power-hungry Wi-Fi to control smart home devices, and makes the more efficient BLE a better choice. Particularly because, in addition to reduced infrastructure costs (no access points or routers required), Bluetooth also tends to be easier on battery life than WiFi.
Further, this extended range also means that any connected device should now be able to function more efficiently at greater ranges. For example, earlier Bluetooth speakers would break up and intermittently drop the connection when a user walked out of his/her room with his/her smartphone. But now with Bluetooth 5, these speakers should function flawlessly due to the increased connection range. Similarly, while most smartwatches currently take a second or two to take a notification from a user’s smartphone and display it on the watch, with Bluetooth 5 these notifications should now appear instantly.
2) Allows for faster data transfer among IoT devices while reducing power consumption by half
Along with additional range, Bluetooth 5 will feature twice the transmission speed of Bluetooth v4.2., thus allowing users to send and receive data much more quickly.
This increase in speed might not be looked at as something very critical in the IoT world, in one quick glance. This is because speed does not play a major role in most IoT applications or use cases that don’t involve streaming. For example, in the case of wearables like fitness wristbands, the data transfer involved is very small as it mostly revolves around information such as pulse, number of steps taken, etc. Therefore, the speed offered by Bluetooth v4.2 (the current Bluetooth standard) is sufficient enough to relay this data to the user’s smartphone or other device in real time during a workout or afterwards.
On the other hand, power consumption is one of the factors that plays a ‘make or break’ role in the wearable sector. With Bluetooth 5, the data will now be traveling at twice the speed, thus reducing the active communication time by a factor of up to two. This effectively reduces the power consumption by up to half, which in turn will increase the time that the device can be used for before recharging by 2x.
Another important benefit offered by higher transfer speed in wearables lies in faster software or firmware updates. These updates typically include much larger data transfers than normal usage, and therefore the increased speed will play a significant role in reducing power consumption.
3) Boosts beacon adoption and location-based services by increasing broadcast capacity
Compared to the earlier versions of the bluetooth standard, Bluetooth 5 will showcase an 800% increase in data broadcasting capacity. As a result the data being transferred will be richer and more intelligent. This will redefine the way we interact with our devices. For example, instead of using BLE with paired devices, the enhanced broadcasting capacity will enable “connectionless” services like beacons, geo-targeted information, and navigation. Thus, these devices will now be able to receive and interact with location-based services without having to install any additional apps or set up any connection beforehand.
Now how does it impact the beacon market you ask? – Well, Eddystone beacons are currently used to transfer a URL to a device that would contain additional information about a specific location (for example, a car dealership or a retail outlet could use this URL to promote products or special offers). But, with Bluetooth 5, that transmission can contain a lot more information, and could actually push multiple payloads directly to the user rather than forcing them to visit a URL.
Currently, more than 371 million Bluetooth enabled beacons are projected to be shipped by 2020, according to Patrick Connolly, Principal Analyst at ABI Research. With eight times the broadcast messaging capacity, Bluetooth 5 will further propel the adoption and deployment of beacons and location-based services in the home automation, enterprise, and industrial markets.
Adding on to that, when it comes to scenarios where contextual awareness like navigation and pin-point location are crucial – such as navigating through airports, tracking warehouse inventory and smart city infrastructure that is aimed at helping the visually impaired to be more mobile – Bluetooth 5 will help send contextual information that users will find useful in that moment without connection and application barriers.
4) One additional crucial feature – Mesh networking support
Another anticipated feature, which was not included in the brief announcement about Bluetooth 5, but was already introduced in November 2015, is mesh networking support. If this feature is also included in the release, it could make BLE a stronger candidate for more use cases, like asset tracking and smart waste management, where mesh-networks are required.
However, you will need new devices to benefit from Bluetooth 5
While the odds are good that most of your older Bluetooth devices will still work with new Bluetooth 5 equipment, they almost certainly won’t benefit from its extra capabilities (i.e these older devices will still continue to work at their original speed and distance). Thus, any user looking to take advantage of the entire expanded feature set of Bluetooth 5, will have to purchase all-new Bluetooth 5-ready gear before anything else.
So, if you’ve been working on IoT or location marketing apps or beacon apps that are currently made difficult because of limitations in Bluetooth v4.2, it’s time to start looking closely at the available specifications of Bluetooth 5 and head forward.
Therefore, while the dynamic and ever-evolving world of smart and connected things including beacons is still in its infancy, these significant improvements in speed, power consumption, range, and capacity of Bluetooth 5 will definitely open doors to huge opportunities in the proximity space.
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