Bluetooth has been around since the mid-1990s. Its popularity rests in the fact that it operates on low power, and is both easy to use and inexpensive. The newest in the line is Bluetooth 5.
It is a wireless technology that lives in the airwaves like cellular, Wi-Fi, and NFC. The name Bluetooth comes from the 10thcentury Danish King Harald Blåtand, which is Bluetooth in English. King Blåtand united warring factions in parts of what are now Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The Bluetooth technology was named after him because it was envisioned as an open standard that allows connectivity between many disparate products.
The Bluetooth technology has been true to its name and fortunately for us, it keeps getting better and better.
Most of our current devices are running Bluetooth 4.2, but a much-improved Bluetooth 5 is on the horizon. There are two types of Bluetooth, Classic and Low Energy. The Classic is used for things like wireless keyboards and speakers. BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), which uses a lot less energy, is used in areas like fitness and beacons.
There are already 8.2 billion Bluetooth products in use and the upcoming Bluetooth 5 will have major improvements and advances that make it ideal for IoT devices. This could easily double that usage in just a few years.
Bluetooth 5 Specifications
Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) are the curators of the Bluetooth specification. They recently announced the release of Bluetooth 5 which will include significantly increased range, speed, and broadcast messaging capacity. Members of this SIG now number more than 30,000. Many of them are already working on Bluetooth 5 products, especially those focused on IoT.
In a clear line of sight, the range of Bluetooth 5 could stretch to 400 meters. Ranges in normal circumstances, with walls and interference are expected to be around 120 meters, which is four times that of Bluetooth 4.2. Bluetooth 5 will also be two times faster, with data transfer rates of 2Mbps. This phenomenal increase in range, speed, and data handling will enhance the capabilities of devices using Bluetooth. With this evolution, Bluetooth is certain to be used in wearables, robots, drones, medical devices as well as a plethora of home devices. It will not replace Wi-Fi, but is certain to put a dent in other wireless technologies like ZigBee.
This new strength and functionality make some Bluetooth functions immensely more useable. Bluetooth Beacons which are transmitters that automatically provide information without paring are sure to be wildly popular. While Bluetooth 4.2 restricted these Beacons to 31 bytes of information, the new Bluetooth 5 specifications allow them to be 255 bytes long which will dramatically improve usability. Bluetooth Beacons like Google’s physical web, allow you to go up to a physical item and have an immediate web connection. With Bluetooth 5, you will see them used to provide information in everything from airports to retail stores to museums.
Bluetooth 5 will have extra navigational features so the technology can be more easily used in indoor beacons and other location-based devices. This will allow you to navigate the aforementioned retail stores and museums more easily. Bluetooth 5 will also be useful to help coordinate the many sensors and road sensors in the upcoming self-driving cars.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group released their formal press release announcing Bluetooth 5 in June, 2016. The formal Bluetooth 5 specification will be available sometime towards the end of 2016. Bluetooth chip sets should follow in earnest in early 2017. If history repeats itself, production on Bluetooth 5-enabeled products will start appearing in the late third quarter or fourth quarter of 2017.
Bluetooth device use radio waves instead of wires or cables to connect to each other. These devices contain a tiny computer chip with a Bluetooth radio and software. Since both hardware and software are affected, most devices will be produced with Bluetooth 5 built-in. Because of the changes to the way the radio will work in Bluetooth 5, most devices will require new hardware. New chips and controllers are already being developed with at least one already on the market. So some devices, especially those developed this year, may be upgradeable to Bluetooth 5 via firmware.
Bluetooth 5 devices will be backwardly compatible so older Bluetooth devices will all work with Bluetooth 5, but the extra performance and features will not be available.
Bluetooth 5 will also have one-to-many messaging capabilities. For example, devices will be able to transmit data from a device to multiple devices. Details on this are not yet available.
The future of Bluetooth is unlimited. With Bluetooth 5’s new capabilities and 30,000 members of the Bluetooth SIG already in place, you can expect to see many new Bluetooth appliances and applications in the near future. It will be a pleasure for developers to work with the new Bluetooth capabilities. It will also be a fun ride for consumers who will be able to take advantage of these advances in their daily lives.
Note: BTW, this Bluetooth specification doesn’t have a “.0” (dot zero) ending, like previous versions. It is just known as Bluetooth 5.