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Bluetooth 5: What and Why

Bluetooth SIG report that nearly 4 billion Bluetooth® devices are forecasted to ship in 2018 alone. Bluetooth 5 specifically is the latest version of the innovative technology. It is a development of previous versions, including Bluetooth 4.0, and has successfully built on the Bluetooth Low Energy technology previously introduced to the tech world.

Bluetooth Shipments

Less than a year after the release of this latest version, many of its new features became commercially available in products worldwide, including recently unveiled smartphones. This paves the way for widespread adoption of those features in peripherals, beacons, and other key IoT enabling devices.

So, What’s New?

In short, Bluetooth 5’s primary benefits are improved speed and boosted range - it’s faster and can operate over greater distances than previous versions. The official marketing material from Bluetooth SIG specifies that Bluetooth 5 has four times the range, two times the speed and eight times the broadcasting message capacity of older versions. This equates to data transfer speeds of up to 2 Mbps, communication between devices over distances of up to 800 feet (or 240 metres) and bandwidth speeds of up to 2 megabits per second. These new features offer exciting opportunities for home, industry and commerce.

Bluetooth Statistics

What else do I need to know about Bluetooth 5 Technology?

You’ll most likely need new hardware

In order to reap the rewards of Bluetooth 5, you’ll most likely need to buy the latest equipment. This is because the devices you connect to also have to be Bluetooth 5 compatible. For example, your headphones, smart home devices, speakers, mice, keyboards etc may all need to be upgraded.

In the meantime, Bluetooth 5 is backwards compatible

The latest version is fully backwards compatible with older versions of Bluetooth. So, your Bluetooth 5 phone will have no problem at all working with all the older Bluetooth headphones, speakers, fitness trackers, cars and anything else using 4 series or before.

You can choose your strengths

Technically, devices can decide between a faster speed or a greater range. Speed may be a priority when operating at a short range, transferring short and simple data back and forth. A boosted range would be preferred, however, for Bluetooth beacons and other devices as they only need to send a small amount of data, or are able to send the data slowly, but would like to communicate at greater distances. The two options require minimal battery power.

Which applications benefit from Bluetooth 5?

Bluetooth 5 Applications

Asset and item tracking – The IoT device market for asset tracking is to triple by 2022, according to Mobile Experts. Bluetooth technology powers this market - from inexpensive personal items to large-scale asset tracking solutions found in hospitals, factory floors and city-wide waste initiatives.

Control systems - Bluetooth is a popular wireless communications platform for a number of systems, including lighting control solutions for the smart buildings and smart industry markets.

Monitoring systems - Bluetooth Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) are monitoring a number of key business areas, including light, temperature and occupancy, to lower building operating costs. The technology also enables predictive maintenance and detects machine failures before they occur, thereby avoiding costly downtime.

Automation systems - Bluetooth enables the autonomous, centralised control of a building’s essential systems, including heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR). It also allows for the automatic processing of lighting and security to facilitate energy savings, lower operating costs and improve the lifespan of a building’s core systems.

Is Bluetooth 5 always the right option?

There is always trade-off between data range and rate for a communication platform. For Bluetooth 5, using the maximum range results in a drop in speed to 125 kb/s. But Bluetooth 5’s primary focus isn’t speed and even its maximum is no comparison to Wi-Fi, which can offer more than 54 Mbits/s. That makes WiFi much more attractive for sharing huge files, but it may use as much as 40 times the power of Bluetooth in some applications.

Bluetooth 5 Wi-Fi Comparison

In short, the answer is no – Bluetooth 5 isn’t always the right option. It very much depends on the situation and your individual requirements. For multiple sensors sharing minimal data across a wide area, Bluetooth 5, or indeed even LoRa, technology are the better options. However, for sharing complex, bigger files in close proximity, the well-established Wi-Fi technology will prevail. But as technology develops and new innovations come to light, there is always the chance that these two communication platforms may very well overlap and compete for the same market.

RDM and Bluetooth 5

When researching communication options for our new range of battery and mains powered sensors and accessories, set for release in 2019, we focused on the future and selecting an option that would be best for our customers. Investing an extensive amount of time and resource, we carefully considered all of the technologies available, after which, Bluetooth 5, specifically Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), was selected.

BLE can allow devices to run on battery power for up to five years. This may not be an option for phone calls or vast data downloads but is optimal for applications which only require periodic data transmission. This minimal data consumption is a result of Bluetooth Low Energy's ability to operate in 'sleep mode' until a connection is established. Once this connection is established, typically in only a few mS, data rates can then reach 1 Mb/s.

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