The upcoming improvements to Bluetooth aren’t going to impact what your ISP (Internet Service Provider) charges for its services. Instead, these changes, brought to you by the Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group), will extend the role of Bluetooth as the backbone of the new Internet of Things (IoT) at home, on the road, and even at work.
PERSONAL AREA NETWORKS
When most people think about the wireless network in their home, it’s usually the Wi-Fi network that lets their tablets, phones, laptops, etc., connect to the Internet. That’s a WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network). Bluetooth involves PANs (Personal Area Networks), which allow portable equipment and their applications to connect. Toby Nixon, chairman of the Bluetooth SIG board of directors, points to the spectacular growth in IoT networks as the motivation for the improvements in the upcoming Bluetooth specification. “Current projections put the market potential for IoT between $2 [trillion] and $11.1 trillion by 2025,” he explained in a press release in mid-November. “The technical updates planned for Bluetooth technology in 2016 will help make these expectations a reality and accelerate growth in IoT.”
The current Bluetooth standard (4.2) transports data wirelessly over a distance of up to 30 feet. It uses short-wave UHF radio waves and can connect your iPhone to a small portable speaker on the bookshelf across the room or even to a group of devices trading data over a PAN.
Bluetooth was invented 21 years ago by the Swedish telecomm Ericsson, and it’s currently managed by 27,500 member companies of the Bluetooth SIG. The group was formed in 1998 with five original companies—Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia, and Toshiba—and grew to 400 companies by the end of 1998.
The unusual name for the network was also adopted in the first year. Jim Kardach, an Intel engineer who helped bring together the original five Bluetooth SIG companies, suggested the name “Bluetooth.” At the time, he was reading an historical novel about the Danish King Harald Bluetooth, who united all the Danish tribes. Another advantage of Kardach’s suggestion was that it came with a ready-made, very distinctive logo. The angular capital “B” is actually a rune that represents Harald’s initials.
One of Bluetooth’s earliest applications was the hands-free headset that communicates with your mobile phone. Then there were headphones, computer mice, and keyboards. Added later were printers, GPS receivers, barcode scanners, and the Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation video game consoles. More recently, Bluetooth has enabled the short-range transmissions of health sensor data from medical devices that monitor critical real-time data and the less critical RTLS (Real-Time Location Systems) that help you find objects you’ve attached broadcasting nodes or tags to.
And now the horizon is expanding to near-unlimited vistas with a growing variety of IoT-connected devices—your car, home thermostat, watch, and even the pencil in your pocket.
THE INTERNET OF THINGS
The number of Bluetooth-connected devices is predicted to grow dramatically within the next few years. Gartner, Inc. estimates that “there will be nearly 26 billion devices on the Internet of Things by 2020.”
According to the IoT Consortium in San Francisco, Calif., the IoT is creating an upheaval that will eventually result in “a shift from the Information Age to the Intelligence Age, which will be characterized by the autonomous communication between intelligent devices that are sensitive to the presence of a person and respond by performing a specific task that enhances that person’s lifestyle.” And as the cost of connected devices continues to decrease, the growth of the IoT will accelerate.
Consider the Nest thermostat. It possesses what Mark Spates, president of the IoT Consortium, calls “ambient intelligence,” which allows it to “sense the presence, movement, and behavior of a consumer, analyze that data in order to learn about the consumer, and then make an intelligent decision to perform a task based on the data.” That is, the Nest will program heating and cooling tailored to your schedule and presence in the house.
Taken a step further, a company called Zuli is developing a recommendation engine that will sense your presence in a specific room and will then “adjust the room’s temperature, lighting, and music for each person in the home.” The product is expected to launch within the next six months.
Bluetooth’s future is already bright because of its opportunities in the IoT. Add in next year’s plans to double the speed, quadruple its range, and unfold it into mesh networks, and the potential to transform information into intelligence almost sounds attainable.