Bluetooth is a short range wireless communications standard, sometimes call a PAN or Personal Area Network, named after the Viking king, Harald Bluetooth, said to have united the many different Viking tribes. It has been a staple part of phones since the beginning and is currently in its fourth generation. Successive generations improved compatibility, security, performance and energy use and today the Bluetooth Special Interests Group has officially announced the specifications for Bluetooth 5. We already had an idea of the improvements that were coming to the next generation Bluetooth radio but now there is an official confirmation.
The headline improvements are certainly noteworthy. Bluetooth 5 is set to quadruple the range of current Bluetooth 4.x devices, double the data transfer speed and increase the capacity eight times. We’ll be able to connect to more Bluetooth devices at the same time and shunt much more data across the networking technology. This in itself is interesting and certainly useful, but the Bluetooth SIG have incorporated a new technology into Bluetooth 5 called “advertising packets.” These are a means of Bluetooth-enabled devices to transmit and transfer data between one another and even if there is no established pairing relationship between the devices. And this has significant implications for the Internet-of-Things: it will change how Bluetooth location beacons work, for example. Mark Powell, an Executive Director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, said this on the new generation radio: “Bluetooth 5 will transform the way people experience the IoT by making it something that happens simply and seamlessly around them.” He continued to explain how Bluetooth 5’s longer range and higher bandwidth means Bluetooth location beacons will be a more viable technology. The increased data transfer speed and pair-less functionality will make it easier for Internet-of-Things devices to communicate with other devices and simplifies even the more mundane tasks like pushing software updates to Bluetooth devices.
The Bluetooth Special Interests Group anticipates that there will be 371 million of these Bluetooth location beacons distributed around the developed world inside the next five years, despite Bluetooth 5 not being commercially available until late 2016 or early 2017. Next year’s flagship smartphones are likely to have Bluetooth 5 radios onboard, but if Google release Nexus devices in the autumn or fall, these may not include the technology. There remains a number of questions surrounding the improvements to Bluetooth to bring it up to the next generation, mostly around the security aspects of the advertising packet technology, and it will be interesting to see how Bluetooth 5 performs when it arrives.