Bluetooth wireless range, speed to continue improving

Home automation, IoT drive need for Bluetooth to gain speed and range

Soon, turning off the heat and lights before leaving your house could be as simple as turning a key in a Bluetooth-equipped lock.

This scenario may be possible with the latest Bluetooth wireless technology, which could start appearing in products next year. With the improvements, devices will be able to communicate directly over a longer range and at faster speeds than with current technology.

The range and speed of Bluetooth will continue to increase in coming years as the markets for home automation and IoT grow, said Mark Powell, executive director at standards-setting organization Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG).

The upcoming Bluetooth protocol -- which will be released in the second half this year -- will quadruple the wireless range and double the speed of the current technology. Bluetooth-SIG members involved usually develop chips in parallel, but it takes a few months until they start appearing in devices, Powell said.

Bluetooth devices now can connect within a range as large as a room, but the next protocol with ensure that all the devices inside a home can communicate. The next Bluetooth protocol will transfer speeds of up to 2Mbps (megabits per second), which is double that of the current speed.

Analysts have predicted up to 50 billion connected would ship by 2020. Around 3 billion devices with Bluetooth technology shipped last year, and Powell sees a big opportunity to grow in industrial and consumer devices.

In its early days Bluetooth was used in hands-free smartphones, allowing users to talk via wireless headsets. Now the technology is being used in smart meters, health care devices, drones, robots, medical devices and wearables. But Bluetooth is competing with other protocols like Zigbee and Google's Thread.

Faster speed and longer range is important in a mesh of connected devices, Powell said. Faster connectivity is also important for firmware delivery to devices, Powell said.

Connecting Bluetooth devices will also be a much easier, "out-of-box experience," Powell said, adding that it will not require user intervention. That will be especially necessary when hooking up appliances and devices in a home. In many cases Bluetooth devices currently need to be coupled manually.

It's possible to extend the range of data collected via Bluetooth through gateways, in which routers collect and transfer data over long distances. For example, the technology could be used to send health information from a wearable to a doctor far away. A regular router needs a Bluetooth interface, and the data is then routed to a specific recipient over wired networks. This technology is already available, but is being developed for wider network deployments.

Bluetooth SIG's members will drive further speed, range and usability improvements, Powell said. He couldn't provide a timeframe of when new Bluetooth technology beyond the upcoming protocol would be released.

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