How Bluetooth 5 and ilumi MeshTek create the perfect IoT platform for 2017 and beyond.
What is Bluetooth Meshing?
Bluetooth was standardized in 1999, The current version that is installed in most current smartphones, including the iPhone 7 is Bluetooth 4.2 that also has a “LE” or “Low Energy” connection to control both AC powered devices such as ilumi Smartbulbs and battery powered key finders such as Tile and Foundmi.
The main drawback for using Bluetooth as an IoT platform is the limited number of connections that the phone or tablet can support. Typically, a smartphone can connect to 4 to 8 different devices, such as speakers, headphones, and automotive systems such as Microsoft Sync. But to control a smart home effectively, you need to control dozens of different devices such as light bulbs, sensors, and locks.
In 2014, ilumi created one of the first Bluetooth mesh networks for smart lights. Using software and hardware in conjunction with the Bluetooth 4.2 standard, ilumi’s Bluetooth mesh network can support 50 or more devices on the same network – while still enabling you to use your smartphone with your audio speakers, headsets and automobiles. Some elements of this meshing connectivity are being standardized in the new Bluetooth 5 platform, to enable easy cross functional IoT control.
So what does Bluetooth 5 have to offer?
In our opinion, the improvements in this version will enable it to emerge as the dominant IoT platform technology, especially when combined with the meshing capabilities of the ilumi Bluetooth MeshTek platform.
1. IMPROVED DATA SPEEDS IN BROADCAST AND CONNECTION BASED MESH NETWORKS
The standard Bluetooth 4.2 LE doesn't effectively move large amounts of data to IoT devices without meshing. But Bluetooth 5 enables ilumi to dramatically increase data speeds. In 2017, devices using ilumi’s Bluetooth 5 MeshTek modules may deliver up to twice the data speed of a generic Bluetooth 4.2 device while increasing the capacity of data broadcasts by 800%. This will increase the speed of both one way broadcast mesh transmissions, as well as higher speed two way direct connection mesh networks.
2. Broadcast Bluetooth Mesh Networks
The first generation of Bluetooth meshed devices used a simple "broadcast" or "flooding" approach to send simple commands such as “on” and “off” to a group of devices. By repeating the commands multiple times, this approach enables more devices to be controlled by a single phone or master device. It is like a IoT sprinkler for simple commands, which sends a sends a small amount of data over a large number of devices.
3. Direct Connection Bluetooth Mesh Networks
For devices such as smartbulbs, displays, and projectors, the need to have two way communication and update firmware require more data than standard broadcast meshing allows.
ilumi Solution’s MeshTek connection based meshing approach is the answer. First, each device can send direct messages through the mesh to specific devices without impacting the others. Instead of a sprinkler, connection based meshing is like a data garden hose. ilumi’s ability to setup independent data streams over the mesh enables the devices to react differently – even though they are all on the same mesh network.
The connection based mesh approach also enables effective two way communication between devices to ensure that alerts, troubleshooting codes, data logic, and firmware updates are delivered in their entirety. With MeshTek connection based Bluetooth technology using Bluetooth 5 Ready modules, device manufacturers will be able to create traceable, reliable connections with effective tools for troubleshooting using data rates 4x previous versions of Bluetooth.
4. HUNDREDS OF CONNECTED BLUETOOTH DEVICES ON A NETWORK
While today’s smartphones using Bluetooth 4.2 can only control a handful of devices at the same time, the combination of Bluetooth 5 and ilumi’s MeshTek network software will grow this number dramatically. Using MeshTek technology with Bluetooth 5, device manufacturers will be able to control hundreds of unique devices in a single network.
5. BLUETOOTH 5 HAS LONGER RANGE
The new standard is has up to four times the range of Bluetooth 4.2, which will come in particularly useful for things like alarms, lighting, and sensors. You'll be able to see and control hundreds of different devices right from your phone without having to have a ubiquitous WiFi connection typically required for other IoT platforms. This especially helpful in rural or agricultural environments for applications such as horticultural lighting.
When this longer range is combined with MeshTek’s Bluetooth mesh technology, the effective range grows exponentially. For example, a typical Bluetooth item tracker (such as a key chain accessory) sold today would need to be within range of the smartphone to be activated. However, with a Bluetooth 5 MeshTek network, the key can be activated if it is within range a ilumi Smart LED lighting, MeshTek enabled TV, or any other Bluetooth device that is connected to the mesh. If the key chain tracker was left in a rural outbuilding equipped with ilumi Smart LED lights, the tracker would transmit a signal through the ilumi Smart lights to another Bluetooth meshed device – up to 8 hops away – to enable it to be tracked by the phone well beyond the range of the phone itself.
Mark Powell, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG explains: "Increasing operation range will enable connections to IoT devices that extend far beyond the walls of a typical home."
BLUETOOTH 5 IS READY FOR THE IOT
Using Bluetooth 5 with meshing hardware and software, the new technology can potentially eliminate the hubs, bridges, and the need for ubiquitous Wi-Fi connectivity required for typical Zigbee based IoT devices. Today, there are over 30,000 Bluetooth MeshTek enabled networks that work without a hub.
This functionality will be increased with Bluetooth 5. According to the Bluetooth SIG, the upgrades to range, speed, and capacity will "redefine the way Bluetooth devices transmit information, moving away from the app-paired-to-device model to a connectionless IoT where there is less need to download an app or connect the app to a device."
Powell adds: "Bluetooth will be in more than one-third of all installed IoT devices by 2020. The drive and innovation of Bluetooth will ensure our technology continues to be the IoT solution of choice for all developers."
BLUETOOTH 5 BOOSTS LOCATION SERVICES
For retail and commercial customers, the ability to create location based advertising and messaging will be a critical part of customer acquisition and retention strategies in 2017 and beyond. Bluetooth 5 should boost the uptake of Beacon technology, which will result in significantly improved indoors navigation in shopping centers, events, and other high traffic environments.
This will be possible because Bluetooth 5 will add "significantly more capacity to advertising transmission," according to Bluetooth SIG. This means that it will be able to convey much more information to other compatible devices without forming an actual connection. Currently, each ilumi Smartbulb supports existing Bluetooth standards to notify you about the name and nature of other open Bluetooth networks, but Bluetooth 5 will add location and navigation functionality, so that Beacons can transmit custom information without connection and application barriers.
According to the Bluetooth SIG: "With the major boost in broadcast messaging capacity, the data being transferred will be richer, more intelligent."
In other words, you won't need to install an app or go through connection set-ups in order to receive specific location-based information from Bluetooth Beacons.
ROLLING OUT BLUETOOTH 5 DEVICES IN 2017
While your existing phones, speakers and equipment may work with Bluetooth 5 devices, they almost certainly won't benefit from its extra capabilities. However, ilumi is building new products such as the ilumi Smartstrip, the world’s first indoor / outdoor LED strip, that will be Bluetooth 5 Ready. As various elements of the Bluetooth 5 ecosystem become productized, these products will use the MeshTek’s Over the Air (OTA) firmware updates to add new functions and features as they are developed.
Over the next year new chipsets will become available that will enable manufacturers such as ilumi to begin to incorporate these new features into their products.
Companies such as Nordic have already announced new chipsets that will be available in 2017 with various elements of Bluetooth 5 that are in the testing and certification processes. Ilumi is working with multiple manufacturers to incorporate its meshing technology platform into these chips for easy IoT interoperability.
For most consumers, the key activation point is the Bluetooth chip used in their smartphone. As manufacturers roll out new devices in 2017, the ability to leverage the longer range and higher data speeds will slowly come online in the IoT space.
Bottom line – Bluetooth 5 will have a dramatic effect on the growth of consumer and commercial based IoT products such as smart lighting, enabling Bluetooth to emerge as a complimentary “capillary” control network to the high speed Wi-Fi networks in place today.