Bluetooth Mesh Network Announced, Could Speed Up IoT Adoption Rates
Though much of the focus has been on 5G and the opportunities advanced networking will bring to the table for the IoT space, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, Inc., (Bluetooth SIG) has been working to ensure their technology is ready for the next stages of a connected world.
The group recently announced support for mesh networking.
We’ve heard about mesh networking as it relates to in-home WiFi routers. At CES 2017 we met eero, a company that developed a simple-to-use mesh networking solution; also in January, Linksys launched their Velop modular mesh WiFi system; and more recently, Comcast began working with Plume to integrate their mesh networking technology into Comcast’s platform. The promise of mesh networking—from a WiFi perspective—is the elimination of coverage dead spots. Mesh networking pods (basically mini network extenders) are placed around the users home, and the pods learn to adapt to how the user moves around and where coverage is needed.
Mesh networking has been a great addition to the WiFi space, but it’ll prove to be an absolute game changer for Bluetooth. Consumers that have experienced whole home audio systems that rely on a WiFi network can understand, to an extent, the benefits of that experience over Bluetooth speakers. Bluetooth, to this point, has been a reliable technology in terms of transferring data (in the form of music, files, video, etc.) from one device to another. But the range is limited. Standard Bluetooth range rests around 30 meters or 100 feet. Bluetooth 5.0, which was first introduced on a smartphone with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8, could quadruple that range. But for consumers in a connected home that still might not be enough.
Mish Mesh, Mix and Match
A Bluetooth mesh network would solve the issues of range and actual performance, according to the Bluetooth SIG. The group said the combination of Bluetooth’s global interoperability and the wide ranging ecosystem of products will result in the creation of “industrial-grade device networks.”
"For us, Bluetooth mesh is the future," Dr. Juergen Kienhoefer, CEO, Wireless Cables Inc., said in the statement. "Our customers are mostly industrial customers that work with sensors and controls, meaning they need long range, tight security, and reliable communication with a large number of devices, as well as more and more integrated web capabilities each year. While our current solutions can extend Bluetooth range up to 200 meters, Bluetooth mesh allows us to solve even more complex range and limit problems."
Bluetooth technology has allowed for two types of connections thus far. One is point-to-point, which is your basic one-to-one, smartphone-to-headphone connection. The development of that technology is what allowed the Bluetooth audio market to proliferate and the wearables market to find a foothold. Broadcast connections, which connect one device to many other devices allowed beacon technology to take off.
With Bluetooth mesh connections, we’ll start to see the capabilities of many-to-many device connections. The promise here, according to the Bluetooth SIG, is that tens, hundreds, or thousands of devices will be able to communicate with one another to automate systems that range from a standard smart home to a machine-filled factory.
In the home, this means that connected gadgets would be able to talk to one another to more seamlessly automate systems. Rather than having to hit a button on your smartphone to wake up your home, for example, your windows, lights, coffee pot, and music would recognize that you lifted your head off of your smart pillow. In a warehouse setting, Bluetooth mesh could allow for streamlined asset tracking. With robust systems that enable dozens of devices to talk to one another, Bluetooth SIG discovered that range limitations were nearly nonexistent.
As Bluetooth mesh networking rolls out in connected devices, the biggest impact is likely to be felt at the consumer level. Combined with the impending release of the 5G network, Bluetooth mesh could provide the bump needed to convince consumers that the time is right to start buying into the smart home market.
"By adding support for mesh networking, the Bluetooth member community is continuing a long history of focused innovation to help new, up-and-coming markets flourish," Mark Powell, executive director for Bluetooth SIG, Inc., said in the statement. "In the same way the connected device market experienced rapid growth after the introduction of Bluetooth Low Energy, we believe Bluetooth mesh networking can play a vital role in helping early stage markets, such as building automation and wireless sensor networks, experience more rapid growth.
Aside from education, a major hurdle for smart home adoption has been the lack of reliable connections and advanced low-end automation systems. Sure, a consumer could buy a Philips Hue light bulb and control it from their smartphone, or they could install a smart keyless lock on their front door. Or they could even use scenes through Apple’s Home app to quickly put their home into “sleep mode.” But mesh networks have the potential to automate all of those processes as connected products start talking to one another and learning the user’s habits.
Bluetooth mesh networking standards were adopted by the Bluetooth SIG on July 13. It's unclear when we will start to see the technology integrated into consumer-grade products. However, similar to the way Bluetooth helped launch the wireless audio market into one of the most successful electronics categories, Bluetooth mesh could be a major contributor to the future success of the smart home market.