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Bluetooth 5: What You Need to Know

Bluetooth 5: What You Need to Know

Jay Brant • Jun 30, 2016 •

Bluetooth is one of the most omnipresent communications technologies. Over 30,000 companies are Bluetooth members, implementing the wireless protocol. And it’s about to get a lot better.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) recently announced the latest specification for Bluetooth: Bluetooth 5. No “v”, no periods: just Bluetooth 5.

With a 4x increase in range and 2x increase in speed and, importantly, a 0x increase in power consumption, Bluetooth 5 is going to be a big deal when it starts rolling out late this year or early next.


What’s new with Bluetooth 5?

Let’s start with the basic news: Bluetooth 5 will be faster and have more range.

TechRadar estimates, based on extrapolating what “twice as fast” means when starting from the previous speed, that Bluetooth 5 will have “a maximum throughput of 2 Mbps.” As TechRadar points out, getting such a throughput in the real world might not happen, but it’s still a significant step, particularly when you consider that bandwidth of only 1.5 Mbps is recommended for streaming video on services such as Hulu.

Range will be increased by four times, which means in theory (again, tip of the hat to TechRadar) that a range of over 1,000 feet is possible if the situation is perfect.

It will be worth paying attention to whether these two improvements lead to Bluetooth becoming a replacement for WiFi in less resource intensive deployments, such as Internet of Things systems or even paging systems. Bluetooth is more energy friendly than WiFi in general, and is nearly everywhere. Increased power could lead to creative uses.

Lighthouse Beacon

Low-power beacons

Bluetooth 5 will be particularly meaningful for low-power beacons, because the standard supports richer information.

“Connectionless” services are a big focus for SIG. By connectionless, they mean (essentially) that the devices transmit and receive information without a formal connection. Ars Technica gives a good example: “For instance, when you go to pair a Bluetooth keyboard or speaker with one of your devices, advertising packets can let you see the name of the device before you’ve paired it so you can distinguish it from all the other Bluetooth devices that are within range.”

The size of the advertising packet will be increased in Bluetooth 5, apparently by eight times, meaning the Bluetooth device will be able to transmit much more detailed information.

As the Internet of Things expands and more devices are brought into networks, this capability is going to take on an outsized importance. You need to be able to distinguish devices, services and locations from each other, and Bluetooth 5 presumably will give you fine-grained control.

All of this will be included without increasing energy consumption, SIG claims.

But it’s not all blue sky. The new improvements will most likely require a new chip, so you’ll need to upgrade or replace older Bluetooth devices.

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