It’s a wide, wide, wide wireless world—with Bluetooth as king
Bluetooth is now the worldwide standard for wireless connectivity. In the 20 years that Bluetooth has been in existence, it has gone through a number of iterations or versions. Each one provides better connectivity experiences as well as expands market potential. Bluetooth 5.0 and 5.1 are the very latest versions. And yes, the preferred way to write Bluetooth 5.0, according to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), is not 5.0—it is the simple number 5.
Evolution of Bluetooth
Bluetooth 1 (1999) and 2 (2004)…
are Bluetooth Classic. They are stream oriented for continuous communication. These use BR/BDR (Basic Rate/Enhanced Data Rates) for easy pairing of devices. They also use enabled NFC (Near Field Communication) for devices in close proximity.
Bluetooth 3 HS (2009)…
added a High-Speed mode which used WiFi as the actual data connection. It only did discovery over Bluetooth. 3 HS dropped out of the Bluetooth evolution story.
Bluetooth 4 (2011) or Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE)….
uses a completely different chipset than Classic. Low energy enables short bursts of long-range radio connection. This is ideal for applications that need long battery life but not continuous connectivity. BTLE also uses a new development framework using Generic Attributes or GATT. GATT enables devices to connect directly to apps on smartphones, PCs or tablets. Both Low Energy and GATT are prominent in IoT (Internet of Things) applications.
Fun Bluetooth Facts
• 1997—Swedish firm Ericsson Mobile Communications sets up a joint development group with Intel, Nokia, IBM and Toshiba. They explore the possibilities of low-output, short-range radio links using open standards.
• Tentative marketing names included MC Links and Flirt.
• The name Bluetooth comes from the 10th century Danish King Harald Blåtand or Harold Bluetooth, as he’s known in English. He helped unite warring factions in parts of what are now Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Similarly, Bluetooth technology was created as an open standard to allow connectivity and collaboration between disparate products and industries.
• The Bluetooth logo is derived from combining runes for the letters H and B, Harald Blåtand’s initials.
Bluetooth 5 (2016)…
is built on Bluetooth Low Energy 4.2. It quadruples range, doubles speed and increases data broadcasting eightfold.
Bluetooth 5.1 (2019)…
adds methods to better determine the exact location of a 5.1 device. It also improves GATT caching plus will let a Bluetooth device announce its connectivity availability.
Bluetooth 4 and 5 are backward compatible with Classic, even though different chipsets are involved. Devices like smartphones and tablets use dual-mode chipsets. One is for BR/EDR devices such as headphones. The second is for Low Energy such as wearables or beacons. As long as one of the devices has a dual-mode chipset, as well as the same profiles, they will be compatible. Profiles include A2DP (audio streaming), AVRCP (audio/video remote control), HFP (hands-free) and HSP (links Bluetooth headsets with cell phones).
Delving Into Bluetooth 5
Four times the range of 4.2 LE, two times the speed
Added range capability pushes single reception from 200 feet to 800 feet! But like any other radio signal, walls and obstructions make a difference. There’s also a trade-off. Developers must choose between faster speed or shorter distances or less data over a greater range. This is not user-selectable. The host controller itself makes the choice.
Eight times the data broadcasting
This provides the ability to transmit audio to two devices, rather than just one. This can be speakers in different rooms or 2 speakers in the same room for stereo effect. It also supports for 2 headsets listening to the same audio source. Or you could use the microphone on your headset for talking while transferring sound to your connected speaker. This allows others to hear the conversation.
Less interference with other Bluetooth devices
Bluetooth 5, like other Bluetooth LE tech, works in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. But it uses code-hopping to avoid interference with surrounding devices. Whether it reduces interference with WiFi 2.4 GHz devices remains to be seen.
Beacon technology for more accurate location data
Although the potential now exists for advertisers to beam messages to customers, it also provides a way to help navigate indoors in large venues such as stadiums, airports, malls and museums. It also enables businesses to track inventory in warehouses and individuals to track individually tagged items.
Bluetooth 5 specifications were released in 2016. Right now most products that advertise its use are the latest generations of smartphones, speakers and headphones.
The Future of Bluetooth
According to the Bluetooth SIG’s 2019 Bluetooth Market Update, 4 billion Bluetooth products are expected to ship in 2019. More than 33,000 companies currently innovate Bluetooth products. And Bluetooth will be integrated into an estimated one-third of all installed IoT devices by 2020.
Also from the Market Update are these 2023 sales projections:
- 1.27 billion annual shipments for wireless headsets, wireless speakers and in-car systems
- 1.35 billion annual shipments for sports and fitness wearables, health and wellness monitors and PC peripherals
- 431 million annual shipments for location services such as POI information beacons, item tags, wayfinding in stadiums, museums and airports. It also includes usage for smart cities, smart buildings and smart industry. This latter segment should have the largest growth potential
- 360 million annual shipments using Bluetooth mesh networking for controlling, monitoring and automating thousands of connected devices
- 1.6 billion LE devices will ship with just the one LE chipset; they will not work with older BR/EDR devices
- 39% of all Bluetooth peripherals will support audio streaming
- 300 million Bluetooth tags will ship
- 9 out of 10 speakers will include Bluetooth
- 93% of new cars, trucks and SUVs will come standard with Bluetooth and 54% of all cars on the road will include Bluetooth
The Impact of Bluetooth
Bluetooth is not the only wireless radio wave system out there, but it is the most impactful. It has transformed how we work, play and live. Bluetooth 5 and 5.1 push this change out to even larger venues, impacting homes, businesses, buildings and cities. Plus, they will also impact more personal applications such as health and fitness wearables as well as enhancing the ability to personally navigate in large and confusing indoor venues.
When it comes to that annoying audio lag inherent in streaming audio, it’s not clear whether 5 improves things. That may lie more in the realm of Qualcomm’s new aptX Adaptive codec. It delivers 24-bit audio and further reduces transmission delays. aptX Adaptive automatically adjusts audio quality or latency based depending on the content being played and any external interference.
If your customers ask about Bluetooth 5, or Bluetooth 5.0, remind them that, like all products that are backwards compatible, Bluetooth generational benefits are reduced to the lowest common denominator. This means a Bluetooth 5 headset pairing to a Bluetooth 2 device won’t be able to take advantage of the new 5 technology.
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