Will Bluetooth 5 Enhancements Make BLE the Best Choice for IoT?

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is already a leading communication standard in the vast domain of the Internet of Things (IoT). A few days ago, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) shared some details about Bluetooth 5. This is the name of the group’s next release, scheduled for the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017. According to the announcement, the new version will offer significant improvements compared to the existing specification. Speed, range, and broadcasting capacity are all purported to be extended by substantial factors. Here is a look at how these enhancements will upgrade current applications, and boost the superiority of BLE even further over competing technologies. In the complex battle for domination over the IoT communication standard, these new advantages might help BLE prevail and become the ultimate standard of IoT.

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Double the speed means half the power consumption

In many IoT applications, speed is not a very big issue. This is generally true for most use cases that don’t involve streaming. For instance, we can look at a wearable product, like fitness wristbands. The data transfers are very small and include information like pulse, number of steps, type of exercise, etc. The speed of the current Bluetooth standard is sufficient for relaying this data to the user’s smartphone or other device in real time during a workout or afterwards. Increasing the transfer speed by a factor of two will not significantly improve the experience in a way that the user would notice.

On the other hand, power consumption is a very big deal for wearables. The time between charges of a fitness wristband could make or break the product. Since the data is now traveling at twice the speed, the active communication time can be reduced by a factor of up to two. This effectively reduces the power consumption by up to half, as well. And half the power consumption means double the time that the device can be used before recharging. Now, that’s a big deal.

faster software

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.

Quadruple the range means full-home control

As in wearables, Bluetooth is already one of the most ubiquitous technologies involved in smart home devices. Its advantages of low power and fast transfer, together with the ubiquity of the standard in existing consumer devices, make it a clear choice for many products. But, in the evolving and fluctuating world of IoT, it’s difficult to predict which technology will become the most widely adapted and make the others obsolete. Therefore, many products in the market today have multiple, redundant options for connectivity. For example, the highly popular Nest smart thermostat supports three communication standards: Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and BLE.

According to the Bluetooth 5 announcement, the new standard will increase the range of communication by a factor of four. This means that, in addition to the existing advantages of BLE, users will gain control of their smart home products, from lightbulbs to smart locks, from anywhere in their home. This effectively removes the main advantage of using power-hungry Wi-Fi to control smart home devices, and makes the more efficient BLE a better choice.

The enlarged range is also great news for many other use cases. From simple devices like remote controls, keyboard and mouse sets to wearables and especially hearables, that tend to break up if the user roams too far from the connected device.

Boost in broadcasting means less hassle to connect

Another large improvement in the new release will be an increase of 800% in data broadcasting capacity. According to Bluetooth SIG’s projection, this will generate a major change in the way we interact with our devices. Instead of using BLE with paired devices, the enhanced broadcasting capacity will enable “connectionless” services like beacons, geo-targeted information, and navigation. The idea is to be able to receive and interact with these services without installing any additional applications and without the nuisance of setting up a connection beforehand.

Another anticipated feature, which was not included in the brief announcement about Bluetooth 5, but was already introduced in November 2015, is mesh networking support. If this feature is also included in the release, it could make BLE a stronger candidate for more use cases, like asset tracking and smart waste management, where mesh-networks are required.

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.

Find out more

We at CEVA have engaged with multiple customers, where our IP already supports such Bluetooth 5 enhancements. Silicon prototypes are now available, and we look forward to the wide scale deployment of Bluetooth 5 in due course. Click here to learn about CEVA’s comprehensive Bluetooth IP offering and find out the best way to embed Bluetooth connectivity in your products.

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