Bluetooth 5.0 is official, but you will not see any devices with 5.0 connectivity until maybe the end of the year or next year. This new standard for Bluetooth though is actually quite something. It is the next major upgrade of the technology since the 4.0 is launched and widely used 9 years ago. Quite recently we get the 4.2 which brings some newfound stability in its connection with no major improvement on speed or range. Bluetooth 5.0 is set to change that.
Double the data transfer speed, four times the connection range, and 800% more capacity for higher stability and more devices. Those are the headlines for Bluetooth 5.0 and it already sounds great. To a certain extent though the significance of the Bluetooth 5.0 technology may not affect or mean much. Therefore to understand and appreciate the importance of 5.0 technology we have to understand the technology itself and the purpose of it, especially the 5.0.
So what is Bluetooth technology exactly? What is it for? What does it do? How does it do it?
Bare with me as this may get a little technical; let us start with the basics, when it all started. The Bluetooth technology started out in 1994, primarily for the convenience of data exchange over radio transmissions. It was created with the purpose of creating a standard for wireless connection of any devices for any possible purpose over a certain distance.
Like what is said earlier, the Bluetooth technology relies on radio waves for its interactions. Specifically it relies on a short-wavelength Ultra High Frequency radio waves at about 2.4GHz from small sensors and transmitters that are installed on devices like your smartphone. For the more technically sound ones out there, the 2.4GHz wave is not an exclusive or unique in any way which would mean that with normal application any data being exchanged in this frequency can be interrupted or interfered. While that is true, Bluetooth employs their own frequency-hop transceiver to cancel out these noise and the interference. This technology in general is known as Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS). What this transceiver does is that it will at plenty of time and also very quickly switch and change channels or carriers in the same radio frequency when exchanging data. To simplify it basically is like allowing plenty of people carry one object from one place to another but not all at one go, the object will be held by different people all the way until it finally reaches its destination.
Starting from Bluetooth 2.1, which is basically the version that was first introduced to consumers in a smartphone or a handheld device Bluetooth introduced something that we know as Basic Rate/Enhanced Data Rate (BR/EDR). In theory the Basic Rate of Bluetooth means that data can be air exchanged at 1Mbps (that is small ‘b’ for bit) while EDR allows for air exchange data at speeds up to 2Mbps. What this does is allow longer lasting battery life for connected devices. For your information Bluetooth 2.1 was introduced at the time when smartphones was still a very new concept and Apple was developing the first iPhone.
A few years after the 2.1, the Bluetooth 3.0 standard took shape. This update has plenty to do with high-speed data exchange. Building on its original technology the 3.0 now adds speeds by enabling the use of the secondary radio antennas that are already existing on the device itself. This was made for more ideal music and video sharing across devices with much better stability than the 2.1 standard. With higher speeds also they quoted a longer battery life for existing devices. One of the first devices to embrace the Bluetooth 3.0 was the iconic Samsung Galaxy S.
Bluetooth 4.0, 4.1, 4.2 – The Current World Standard
A little while later though in the age of super fast, super powerful smartphones battery life is becoming a bigger concern than before. Cramming larger capacity into a small footprint is not going to cut it anymore. In fact if you must know the industry experts actually considers that the lithium battery technology has reached the peak of its development and there can almost be no major improvement made to make the battery anymore efficient or increase its capacity in a given size. Bluetooth has to adapt as well then. Which was why Bluetooth 4.0 came into play. The focus of the 4.0, building on the blocks that have been placed on 2.1 and 3.0 was power efficiency, speeds did not improve by a great margin on 4.1 and 4.2 as well. To curb energy consumption in 4.0 the technology allows the radio transceiver to idle while not in use. When in light to medium usage requirement the technology will be in a low-peak mode for minimum power consumption while exchanging only necessary data with the next device. There is also the average mode when it is really needed.
What was new in this Bluetooth 4.0 and above also was the introduction of connecting to multiple devices for multiple data exchange and transfer. In light of devices that are pushing focuses on Internet of Things (IoT) the 4.0 was created so that we as consumers can connect our smart device to multiple items and devices at home or other spaces to basically interact and control the environment.
When Bluetooth 4.0 came out as well security was becoming a more serious concern in the ever interconnected world. With the IoT becoming more significant as well it was time to take on security of Bluetooth more seriously as well. The 4.1 and 4.2 updates of the 4.0 basically brought 128-bit AES data encryption to the table. The 128-bit encryption is considered one of the tightest of securities one can get in the technology industry now. For industry experts of course there are more secure encryption methods using the 192-bit or the 256-bit encryption. Without getting too technical, these encryption keys are basically codes that keeps changing and cycling at a given time. The 192-bit and 256-bit keys are no doubt the best that cyber security has now but those are used mostly for military and government purposes. For us consumers 128-bit is more than secure enough for data exchanges. This standard of Bluetooth though is the current latest standard that we can have. The Bluetooth 4.2 more specifically is on almost all the smart devices you can buy in the market.
Bluetooth 5.0 – Present, Meet Future
Bluetooth’s development from the past until today has been supported by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG). As of today the membership of SIG has gone past 30,000 members. At this point you may start to wonder who or what SIG is. You may also wonder how SIG affects the Bluetooth technology and us as consumers.
The SIG is a group of organisations that dictates the Bluetooth project and its technologies. The participants of SIG are mostly technology players, though there are no mentions of specific organisations backing the program up we are pretty sure some of the major manufacturers in the technology industry did take part in the program. The SIG are described as the caretakers of the program and they also determine what the next step is for Bluetooth development. They are sort of the Board of Directors of Bluetooth technology if you might. As of for Bluetooth 5.0 they are focusing on IoT.
To start with, Bluetooth 5.0 will include all the technology and profiles that the previous Bluetooth versions have had. The focus, as previously mentioned is IoT and making things as seamless as they can be. The previous versions of technology are all limited to a 10 meter radius uninterrupted. Anything from a brick wall or a glass may cause some interference and therefore shortening the signal reach. The design of the 5.0 allows quadruple the reach of the current outgoing Bluetooth; 40 meters of reach. We would guess also that solid objects in the way of the signal will disrupt or shorten the signal strength and reach. 40 meters is still plenty though for home and offices, perfect IoT distance. With higher signal reach as well consumers may be able to get signal even outdoors at their home.
Bluetooth 5.0 improves the data exchange speed by double the current outgoing Bluetooth. The faster speed of data exchange was not solely benefiting data transfer when you want to play music, or when you want to turn on your house appliances. This goes for home automation. The faster speed means that a larger amount of data can be transferred through the signal which will allow for let’s say your home gate to automatically open when the transceiver from the gate mechanism detects your smartphone within a radius of let us say 10 meters. The point is, the faster data exchange will allow consumers more freedom in controlling their own environments through IoT.
What is even better for the 5.0 is that it will allow for much more devices to be connected together at the same time. In fact the current 4.2 can connect up to 7 devices at the same time. The 5.0 will have 800% more capacity than the 4.2 which will bring it up to nearly 60 devices at the same time. Logically a normal home will not have that much device, but with that kind of capacity you have total control over all your IoT devices fitted with Bluetooth.
The Future is Here, But Not Really
The introduction of Bluetooth 5.0 is basically an introduction to the future of IoT and how we interact with technology. The SIG has reported that the first of devices to be fitted with the latest and greatest Bluetooth to roll out in late 2016 or early 2017. It is also unclear yet whether or not the rest of us that are on 4.2 will have a mere firmware update to version 5.0. We highly doubt that it is a mere software update though. Meaning you folks that are holding on to 4.2 devices may have to fork out more money if you really wish to jump on the 5.0 boat. That said, this is probably one of the most interesting upgrade to Bluetooth and the technology industry yet. The Bluetooth technology, when introduced was a game changer. It made infrared on a handheld device pretty much obsolete. With the new version, will it replace WiFi in IoT? We highly doubt that, but then again it is the tech industry we are talking about, people gets proven wrong all the time.