Mesh finally comes to Bluetooth with major upgrade in range and rate

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It’s been a long time coming, but the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has finally released Bluetooth 5, the new version of the protocol that brings significant range and bandwidth improvements, as well as the new mesh networking features that will allow Bluetooth to challenge the likes of Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Thread in emerging IoT markets.

With around 92% consumer awareness, Bluetooth is likely only second to WiFi when it comes to brand visibility. It has a major advantage here over rival radio protocols, thanks to this consumer familiarity, and assuming the SIG’s messaging is on point, Bluetooth 5 and its mesh capabilities should enjoy considerable success in the smart home.

As long as smartphones continue to function as the main interface between a consumer and the digital world, Bluetooth will also benefit from its tight integration – allowing the smartphone to act as a local conduit between the user and their smart home devices. These phones don’t include Z-Wave, Zigbee or Thread radios, and the handset makers show no signs of adding them.

While Bluetooth doesn’t have a completely stellar reputation among consumers, still burdened by experiences with earlier versions, its performance enhancements, first announced in December, could resolve that contention. Headline improvements of 4x range or 2x bandwidth, to 200 meters or 2Mbps, are a big deal – although it’s important to note that these are an either/or choice, as you can’t have both at the same time.

A theoretical maximum range of 4.3km is not something that consumers are going to be encountering, but there are companies that are achieving ranges that make 200 meters sound conservative. Riot spoke to Cassia Networks a few weeks ago, on the back of a partnership with GE Digital, which specializes in using long range Bluetooth in industrial and commercial applications, using a few adaptations to the protocol to extend its range – but using standard end-device hardware.

Big break with previous releases of Bluetooth:

It was good to hear that the brand name ‘Bluetooth Smart’ is now dead –its introduction was a little confusing, considering that Bluetooth Low Energy was the previous brand for the protocol, and far better suited to the IoT direction that the SIG was pursuing.

Ken Kolderup, the SIG’s VP of marketing, told Wireless Watch’s sister service, Rethink IoT, that the best way to learn about Bluetooth Mesh is to forget everything you know about Bluetooth – and a lot has changed under the hood. Explaining the protocol’s evolution, Kolderup noted that it had come a long way from its peer-to-peer audio origins. In 2010, the launch of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE, in v4.0) saw the SIG focus on data transfer, rather than audio or voice.

BLE introduced broadcast (one-to-many) functionality to the protocol, which provided the foundation for beacons – which have gone on to be used in smart buildings, venues, retail, asset tracking, and as assistance tools for indoor navigation.

This article is an abstract from the Wireless Watch service. Learn More. 

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