The Stack Archive

Bluetooth evolves into the promise of IoT with longer range, mesh networking and 100% speed increase

Thu 12 Nov 2015

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has announced a roadmap for the future of the low-level intra-device protocol which will see speed and range increases likely to signal significant new possibilities for its role in the Internet of Things (IoT).

A post at the official Bluetooth site advises that the range of Bluetooth Smart, a low energy subset of the protocol aimed at facilitating networks for personal health devices, entertainment systems and other domestic networks, is set to increase fourfold, offering a ‘more robust’ connection that can span an entire household and outside environs, whilst also offering a 100% increase in speed. These improvements are to come at no extra penalty of energy consumption.

Additionally the upgrades will specifically address the issue of Bluetooth’s capability to form mesh networks, a functionality which dissidents and other innovators have been shoehorning onto the laggard specs of Bluetooth for some years. How the amended specs will affect this aspect of Bluetooth use has not yet been specified.

The report estimates the market potential of IoT as somewhere between $2-11 trillion within ten years

SIG’s executive director Mark Powell comments “The Bluetooth technology roadmap is a powerful expression of our mission to continue as a catalyst for industry innovation…Bluetooth has been adopted by countless developers and manufacturers as their connectivity solution of choice for the IoT. The new functionality we will soon be adding will further solidify Bluetooth as the backbone of IoT technology.”

Toby Nixon, chairman of the Bluetooth SIG Board of Directors, also comments that Bluetooth has been under pressure from industry for a long time to offer performance improvements of this nature, noting that the planned technical updates will “help make these expectations a reality and accelerate growth in IoT” in 2016.

As a roving technology, Bluetooth’s limited range has to date almost presented itself as a security feature rather than a hindrance, most especially in regard to wearables which use it to communicate with more robust devices such as smartphones and laptops. With an effective range of only a few metres, potential attackers have very little opportunity to intervene in signal exchanges. However, it can be done, at least in theory. Presumably an increase in range has inverse security implications which will need to be addressed by developers accustomed to relying on a paltry signal length as a safeguard.

Bluetooth also offers a more full-bodied version of the protocol primarily aimed at fixed domestic or office situations which require higher connectivity and performance. But it’s the micro-economics of energy and signal use in low-tech, low-spec IoT networks that are pointing IoT manufacturers towards the potential of Bluetooth Smart. In the area of Smart Cities alone, a significant upgrade to the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol is enough to have town planners recalculating new schemes for connectivity, building and structure monitoring and surveillance infrastructure.

In 2014 protesters in Hong Kong were advised by student activist Joshua Wong to download the Firechat app, which enables local networks via Bluetooth. The success of the tactic led Hong Kong to take a commercial interest in mesh-networked phone communications.


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