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We all know the futuristic vision of the world just around the corner. The vision where we tell our smart home that we’ve just left work at the end of a long day, and we’re heading home. Our home then tells the thermostat to warm up or cool down, lights to turn on, and the oven to start baking the lasagna we left in it that morning. We arrive to a warm, brightly lit home, and hot, freshly cooked food.
You’ve got the vision, but do you have any idea how many connectivity and networking standards are involved in making this vision a reality? Let’s look at the scenario outlined above. The smart phone we use to contact our smart home, will communicate via Wifi with our home. Our smart home hub will use Zigbee, Z-Wave or the recently introduced Thread to talk to the thermostat, lights and oven. When we arrive, we will use Bluetooth from our smart phone to disarm the house and unlock our door. Once we’re in, if we want to stream our favorite music to our headphones, we will use Bluetooth again. Today, not all of these standards play well with each other.
So why do we have so many standards? In an ideal world, all our wearables, smart homes and IoT devices would use a single interconnect standard with fantastic range, secure encryption and very low power for extended battery life. All these devices would still function if one of the devices in this network went down. And adding these devices to the network would be quick and seamless. But today, this is not realistic because each device requires connectivity with different requirements. Our laptops need very high throughput, with low latency. But range and battery life isn’t much of an issue with a nightly recharging schedule. Our wireless headphones on the other hand do need extended battery life and extended range. Our keyless entry for our garages and doors need security more than anything else. Our refrigerator doesn’t need high throughput or security, but will need to connect to more than one device.
Wifi provides us with high throughput, but is a power hog. Zigbee, Z-Wave and Thread have better battery lives, but definitely don’t have the throughput of Wifi or Bluetooth. Bluetooth traditionally has had a limitation of a point-to-point connection, which meant those pesky pairing routines we needed to go through to add each device. With so many limitations, is it any wonder we have so many different standards?
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had fewer standards to deal with when designing for the brave new IoT world?
Bluetooth is attempting to do exactly that with its latest release of Bluetooth 5. So how will Bluetooth 5 solve some of the limitations of these other standards?
Bluetooth currently has two flavors—one is the Bluetooth Classic, and the other is Bluetooth Low Energy, or BLE. BLE is expressly designed for longer battery life, making it the de-facto standard for wearables in the market today. BLE has, however, been dogged by the problem of ‘pairing’, limiting it’s applications in the IoT world. With the release of Bluetooth 5, this will not be a limitation for BLE devices anymore. In addition to being a point-to-point connection, Bluetooth 5 will also use what is known as a ‘mesh’ connection. This is the same interconnect topology that is used today by Zigbee, Z-Wave and Thread. This will allow devices to be added much more easily, and will also allow a greater number of devices to be added to the network. Another improvement that Bluetooth has announced for Bluetooth 5 is a significant improvement in the range and data speeds. This means you can now use your wireless headset or speakers out by the swimming pool and not miss a note. You would think that all these improvements probably mean a shorter battery life. But thanks to some very smart optimizations, Bluetooth 5 has actually managed to reduce its power profile significantly! If you’d like to find out more regarding these and other Bluetooth 5 improvements, watch the video below:
It’s too soon to say if Bluetooth 5 can successfully replace all these other standards. But what we do know, is that all these improvements move Bluetooth squarely into the IoT world, and they will definitely go a long way towards simplifying the number of interconnect standards we have to deal with. As for me, that future with the warm, brightly lit smart home welcoming me home after a long day can’t get here soon enough!