Bluetooth Smart Gets Smarter

SAN FRANCISCO — The latest Bluetooth spec update will improve consumer usability and developer access while paving the way for new devices, according to Bluetooth Special Interest Group officials. In addition, the group is preparing the way for Bluetooth to more deeply support Internet Protocol.

Bluetooth 4.1, officially released today, builds on the current low power consumption model to produce data that’s more visible on mobile devices. The updates improve usability with increased coexistence support for LTE and data exchange, and empower developer innovation, said Errett Kroeter, director of global industry and brand marketing for Bluetooth SIG.

“We want to make sure Bluetooth is central to the implementation and development of the Internet of Things,” Kroeter said in an interview with EE Times. “New features work seamlessly with mobile technology like LTE so there’s no signal interference.”

The update also allows for maintenance of connections with less frequent manual intervention, while expanded time intervals will give product or software developers the ability to choose how long they want devices to search for each other.

Improvements over 2010’s Bluetooth Smart release include the ability for bulk data transfer between Bluetooth devices using the existing low energy feature. Kroeter foresees the technology being used to easily transmit data serially, in real time, in smart homes, heart monitors, and fitness equipment.

“Essentially it allows developers to create all kinds of different scenarios around efficiency of data transfer and creating more flexibility for a scenario where a collector can gather information for period of time and offload it,” Kroeter said. “Information can be stored in a fitness monitor for a whole run, and you can come back and the monitor will be running in the background.”

Data could then be transferred to a smartphone, tablet, or other hub device to be pushed directly to the cloud for sharing.

A key change in Bluetooth 4.1 is the ability for devices to simultaneously act as a sensor and hub device, much as a smartwatch would. With proper software updates, Kroeter said a smartwatch could act as a peripherial and a hub, connecting to a smartphone for text updates and to data from a fitness monitor.

In addition to wearable technology, BT 4.1 can also be used for other small form factor “appcessories” and HID accessories, such as slim smartphone or tablet styluses and small advertising beacons which determine how fast it’s possible to create a connection, a CSR release stated. The upper limit of fast advertising interval in BT 4.1 ranges from 20 milliseconds to 10.24 seconds.

The SIG also created a dedicated channel that can be set up to carry IP traffic, a necessary precursor to implementing Bluetooth communication through IP. Kroeter said engineers are still working on encoding and how packets will be carried and transmitted on the channel.

“We created the railroad track and still need to engineer the train on how it’s going to carry the traffic,” he said. “We know people are interested in using Bluetooth to carry IP traffic natively. It’s not necessarily a limitation today…but we want to provide another option for the next generation of technology.”

Kroeter added that SIG sees Wi-Fi as a “complementary technology” efficient in the 2.4 GHz range, and unaffected by low cost narrowband WiFi options over 900MHz.

“We see us as the primary link between low power devices, especially edge devices, and whatever hub is in the area. We see WiFi as a transport mechanism,” he continued. “Our strength is in creating connections at edge of the network, especially those that are extremely power sensitive.”

Kroeter expects continued growth of Bluetooth Smart devices in the coming years, with 2.5 billion implementing BT Smart in 2013 and 3.5 billion devices expected to ship in 2014. ABI Research projects approximately 1 billion Bluetooth Smart device shipments per year beginning in 2016 and increasing from there, while the installed base of Bluetooth-enabled devices will grow to almost 10 billion by 2018.

In addition to major corporation-backed development, Kroeter said that, as of the third quarter of 2013, 84%of projects on crowdsourcing sites Kickstarter and Indiegogo utilize Bluetooth technology.

— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times