Author(s): Raghu Gopal
This week, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) gave the green light to Bluetooth 5. The group says the updated version gives the local-area wireless standard considerable performance enhancements over the current Bluetooth 4.2.
Bluetooth was conceived as a cable replacement for connecting handsets with computers and accessories, but it has grown a long way since its beginnings almost 20 years ago, evolving into a general connectivity technology (see: Bluetooth SIG Prepares for the Internet of Things).
Bluetooth's ubiquity and name recognition provides it with a special advantage in the current tangle of incompatible local wireless specifications. With the update, the Bluetooth SIG has addressed several weaknesses that in the past prevented the technology from being widely implemented for the Internet of things (IoT) products. The new iteration, BT V5, includes four times the range, twice the speed and eight times the broadcast message capacity of the previous version. These improvements could allow new Bluetooth-enabled products to connect across residences with lower latency.
One gap in Bluetooth 5 is the lack of mesh networking support, which would allow each client device to act as a relay point, passing data further down the line. But given the wave of mesh routers hitting the market, such as Google's Wifi offering, the Bluetooth SIG also plans to add mesh networking capabilities to the specification in future updates. New Bluetooth devices would serve as network-boosting hubs, aiding IoT ecosystems.
The announcement echoes CCS Insight's recent prediction that mesh networks will become a cornerstone of IoT technology in 2017, helped by the launch of a Bluetooth standard and wider support for Thread technology (see CCS Insight Predictions for 2017 and Beyond).
The Bluetooth SIG said that products supporting Bluetooth 5 should hit the market within two to six months. They are likely to include smartphones that can act as central units for controlling smart devices in the home. Makers of smart devices such as connected thermostats and lightbulbs need to choose from a handful of competing local, low-power connectivity standards. Unlike specifications such as ZigBee, Bluetooth has wide name recognition and, given consistent smartphone replacement cycles, Bluetooth 5 can expect to have a massive number of devices using the technology within two years.