THE BLUETOOTH SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP (SIG) has announced the long-awaited arrival of mesh networking for the platform.
In simple terms, this means that Bluetooth devices will be able to talk to each other in multiples of many to many (m:m), and not have to go via a single hub. It also means it will be a lot easier to create multi-room speaker set-ups, for example.
"By adding support for mesh networking, the Bluetooth member community is continuing a long history of focused innovation to help new, up-and-coming markets flourish," said Mark Powell, executive director for Bluetooth SIG, Inc.
"In the same way the connected device market experienced rapid growth after the introduction of Bluetooth Low Energy, we believe Bluetooth mesh networking can play a vital role in helping early stage markets, such as building automation and wireless sensor networks, experience more rapid growth."
There has been some concern that Bluetooth SIG, which has been promising the new tech for two years now, might have left it too late in the wake of other solutions such as Zigbee and Z-Wave. However, with Industrie 4.0 continuing to bring new frontiers to the IoT market, and the sheer superfluity of Bluetooth devices already in circulation, Bluetooth is not exactly coming from a standing start.
INQ spoke to our old mucker Martin Woolley, Technical Program Manager at Bluetooth SIG about the delay. He told us: "It all comes down to wanting to do it right. We've been working diligently to ensure Bluetooth mesh will meet the requirements of our 32,000+ member companies, conducting comprehensive, multi-vendor interoperability testing throughout the development process.
"We wanted to make sure that we were putting out the best possible mesh network, and one that was fully fit for purpose.
"We also wanted to make sure we delivered an industrial-grade solution that fully covered all market sectors, especially emerging industrial and commercial markets where there is increasingly a lot of demand. We've done a lot of work with sensor networking and commercial lighting for example."
Several home hubs, including Wink, Smartthings and Homey have dormant Bluetooth chips which could now be brought into play (after a firmware tweak of course). But the most immediate results, Woolley believes, will come in the industry side.
"Bluetooth mesh will make the biggest initial impact in the industrial and commercial space, enabling smart lighting to function as a platform to manage other services and capabilities," he said.
"The benefits of Bluetooth mesh networking, however, are applicable well beyond the commercial and industrial space, and will eventually become a common technology in the larger Internet of Things ecosystem. For example, Bluetooth has always been ideal for the smart home, and mesh networking will build on this even further."
"Bluetooth mesh will make the biggest initial impact in the industrial and commercial space, enabling smart lighting to function as a platform to manage other services and capabilities. The benefits of Bluetooth mesh networking, however, are applicable well beyond the commercial and industrial space, and will eventually become a common technology in the larger Internet of Things ecosystem. For example, Bluetooth has always been ideal for the smart home, and mesh networking will build on this even further."
The use of Bluetooth Mesh is extremely important to advocates of a multi-vendor market, by bringing about a common standard already embraced by thousands of hardware makers.
For the techies, Bluetooth Mesh offers a full stack from the low-level radio up, interop-centric specification and 20 years experience. For developers, Bluetooth can offer Value-added services like asset tracking and way finding, and benefits from the maturity of its ecosystem and the ability to shrink time to market.
But the best thing of all, and perhaps Bluetooth Mesh's killer feature is that much of what you already have can join. Even your existing phone.
"The great thing about Bluetooth mesh networking is that it operates on Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) and is compatible with core specification version 4.0 and higher. As far as existing products being able to be upgraded to support mesh networking, it will be possible to upgrade the firmware on some devices to support mesh.
"Some devices are designed for upgrading in the field to be possible and others are not, however. That is determined by the product manufacturer. Most in-market smartphones should also be able to communicate with a mesh network using a standard application, which many manufacturers are likely to provide.
"Once a new Bluetooth spec is released, we typically expect to see products using it within about six months. With Bluetooth mesh networking, since there is no new hardware required, we expect it to be sooner." µ
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