The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has announced the launch of Bluetooth 5. As expected, the new version boasts longer range, faster speed, and larger broadcast message capacity, as well as improved interoperability and coexistence with other wireless technologies. These improvements are mostly targeted at the low energy variant of Bluetooth, BLE, as opposed to the classic version used for music streaming and high data transfer rates. BLE is already one of the most ubiquitous standards in the IoT, and used for many applications, including wireless charging, which I recently wrote about. The new enhancements are certain to further increase the footprint of BLE in the IoT.
Increased Speed Makes BLE Even Better for Wearables
According to the Bluetooth 5 spec, speed is doubled compared to the previous version. The increased speed of Bluetooth 5 lays the groundwork for the next generation of Bluetooth audio, which will eventually be a part of BLE. In the meantime, wearable IoT devices, like fitness wristbands, will benefit greatly from the improvement in speed. By doubling the speed the transmission time can be cut in half, so the power consumption is significantly reduced. This means increased battery life, which is a very important issue with wearables and many other IoT use cases.
Another important benefit of higher transfer speed in wearables is faster software or firmware updates. These updates typically include much larger data transfers than normal usage, and therefore the increased speed is significant in reducing power consumption.
Wider Range Makes BLE a Strong Contender for Smart Homes
The new standard also increases the range of communication by a factor of four at least. This means that entire homes and buildings can be covered by Bluetooth 5. This effectively eliminates the main weak point of previous versions, making Bluetooth an even stronger contender to alternatives like Wi-Fi and ZigBee.
The increased range together with better interoperability with other wireless technologies can also help integrate BLE into more smart city use cases, where many long-range protocols are battling for dominance.
Better Broadcasting to Advance Beacons
Another large improvement in the new release will be an increase of 800% in data broadcasting capacity. This is part of the Bluetooth SIG’s attempt to drive the beacon revolution, enabling location awareness and collection of user data to provide personalized experiences. Instead of using BLE with paired devices, the enhanced broadcasting capacity will enable “connectionless” services. This will allow users to interact with services without installing any additional applications, thus avoiding the nuisance of setting up a connection beforehand.
Will BLE Prevail Over Other Connectivity Options?
The future, of course, remains a mystery. The dynamic, evolving world of smart and connected things is still in its infancy. It’s hard to tell what trends and standards will still be here tomorrow, and even more so in the next few years. But, looking at these very significant improvements in speed, power consumption, range, and capacity, it looks like BLE is as strong a candidate as ever.
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