You probably don’t think a lot about Bluetooth during the day, except for in the few seconds it takes to pair a headset or a speaker with your phone. But starting in 2016, Bluetooth will be getting a lot better and faster — which will make more capable devices, and even the smart home that you’ve always imagined, into a reality.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group, the organization that manages and develops Bluetooth standards, has published its roadmap for how the technology will develop in 2016. The enhancements made in the next year will be directly aimed at improving Bluetooth for the Internet of things, with the technology gaining a longer range, higher speeds, and mesh networking capability. Toby Nixon, chairman of the Bluetooth SIG Board of Directors, explains, “Current projections put the market potential for IoT between $2 and $11.1 trillion by 2025. The technical updates planned for Bluetooth technology in 2016 will help make these expectations a reality and accelerate growth in IoT.”
The range of Bluetooth Smart will increase up to four times, up from its current limit of about 330 feet, which will make it easier for devices in your home to pair and transfer data with devices that are farther away. A 100% increase in speed — without an increase in energy consumption — will enable faster data transfers in applications like medical devices.
And the addition of mesh networking capability will enable Bluetooth devices to connect together to create networks that can cover an entire home or building. All wireless devices have a limited range, and all need to connect to a centralized hub, like a router. But mesh networking would enable all devices on a network to talk to one another, either directly or via other nodes if they’re not within range.
Adding mesh networking capability to Bluetooth could be key to transferring important data among all of the devices in your future smart home. (If you’re still confused, read about two new WiFi routers to wrap your head around how mesh networking works, and to learn how profoundly it can change a seemingly simple thing like setting up a home WiFi network).
Kevin Tofel reports for ZDNet that the improvements mean that you’ll be able to have a wide range of Bluetooth devices in your home or office, but you’ll be able to worry far less about the overall network coverage for them. Each device will be able to repeat network signals to others on the network, keeping everything connected and communicating as it should be.
When you look into devices in the growing Internet of things market, things quickly get confusing because devices from smart thermostats to connected locks to lightbulbs you can control with your phone all use different wireless technologies (like Zigbee, Z-Wave, Thread, and many others). But more commonly-used radio protocols, like WiFi and Bluetooth, are more familiar and less confusing. The improvements mapped out by the Bluetooth SIG are directly aimed at updating Bluetooth to be more functional as people begin to warm up to the idea of smart home gadgets.
The Bluetooth SIG is a membership-based organization, and as Paul Sawers reports for VentureBeat, the seven core “Promoter” members are Ericsson, Apple, Intel, Nokia, Microsoft, Lenovo, and Toshiba. The big changes announced by the SIG are a response to the growing demand for connectivity, as tech companies and consumers alike imagine what it will take to build a comprehensive and truly useful smartphone out of an array of different devices.
While the roadmap is just a plan, and implementing the proposed features on real devices can sometimes take longer than the organization would like, this is a change that you can be excited about if you’ve secretly always wanted to turn on the heat with your smartphone or control all of your appliances with your voice.