Danish King Harald Bluetooth certainly did not expect that his name would be the name of an extraordinary technological dynasty, namely the Bluetooth – a wireless communication standard. This communication protocol for devices developed for 24 years, has been awaited the latest version, which brings in a number of changes and improvements for development of the Internet of Things industry. A new 5th dynasty is now inaugurating the throne, announced in 2016 in order to facilitate the construction of the IoT network.

Dedicated to IoT

It is estimated that 800 million devices with built-in Bluetooth technology will be sold in 2018. This astronomical figure includes, for the most part, products that can drive an intelligent home. These include smart TV, refrigerators and vacuum cleaners, but also less obvious products such as toothbrushes and toys for children.

However, the new Bluetooth 5 standard (BT5) is a completely new opening. Its new and improved properties are to fully satisfy the communication needs of an unlimited number of devices working even at high network density. In addition, the technology itself will speed up to twice as fast as the previous standard. As it comes to users, this will translate among other things such as quicker response of the devices after giving them commands, e.g. by means of a mobile application or by a voice assistant. An absolute advantage of the BT5 is its extremely low power consumption, which will significantly prolong the life of the devices on the battery.

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Creating the Network and extending the range

Bluetooth is currently one of the most widely used standards for wireless communication in the world. Its main feature is to transfer information between two devices that have established a connection. The range of such communication to-date was up to 50 meters, but in the new version it is going to increase up to 200 meters (double the length of the football pitch). The most important thing, however, is that for some time now the protocol has enabled work in mesh topology, which in practice means that individual devices can transmit information to others, thus creating a kind of network. This greatly enhances connectivity between points that do not have direct coverage, allowing unlimited large networks of connected devices to be built up. For smart home, this means that even devices that are very far away from control panel (e.g. in a big apartment) can easily communicate.

How do you hear me? Loud and clear

It should be noted that the high frequency in which the BT5 operates, i.e. 2.4 GHz is quite crowded nowadays. Popular networks like WiFi, Zigbee and LTE are also working with this frequency. The demand for transmission in this band is still growing, which means that sharing it (and in fact competing for access to it) requires BT5 to use efficient mechanisms of coexistence and collision avoidance. In this case, the user can rest assured that the devices with BT5 transmitters automatically analyze the network load of each individual channel and search for the ones that will work best.

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A few words on safety

BT5 itself uses the latest security encryption standards, but it is up to manufacturers to implement it in their products to determine the overall security level of their products. A lot depends on the mechanism of connecting the device to our network. The exchange of security keys between them is then critical. Some manufacturers, such as Apple with its HomePod prefer key exchange and pairing via NFC. It is very difficult to listen from outside, mainly because of the need for physical proximity while listening. Another way is to scan the barcodes or QR codes through which the security key is passed. This solution is popular among FIBARO devices. There are many methods out there but the most important is that after secure pairing of the devices, it is practically impossible to listen the communication.

Will the BT5 takeover professional solutions?

The high share of Bluetooth in the components market and the new hardware capabilities of version 5 mean that more and more small businesses and startups will use it when designing their devices. Protocol of this kind is currently relatively easy to access and cheap. It means that once the technological barrier to performance and coverage has been removed, BT5 can also compete with expensive professional solutions for manufacturing, smart cities, logistics or even public utilities.

Today, professional solutions use expensive and demanding communication technologies that are inaccessible to small businesses with groundbreaking ideas. BT5 may change this situation and cause that the authors will not have to waste time getting to know the documentation dedicated to the unpopular standards and incur high licensing costs related to the use of technologies that are not very common.

Time will show how startups will seize this opportunity and how the new BT5 standard will affect the innovative world of IoT. It is true, however, that the opportunities it offers are increasing and the coming years will be very interesting in terms of still growing competitiveness between new and old players in the technology market.