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Bluetooth SIG Specification Enables BLE Mesh Networks

With the newly released spec, companies can build networks in which Bluetooth Low Energy nodes communicate with each other, as well as with hundreds or thousands of BLE-enabled devices and smartphones that move around a facility.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 19, 2017

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has released a Bluetooth mesh-networking specification that enables Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices to serve as large-scale networks for building automation, wireless networks and asset tracking.

The specification has been two years in development. The Bluetooth mesh-networking group was established in February 2015. Since then, the group has worked to ensure the scalability, security and interoperability of the mesh network, conducting testing for use in industrial markets. The group conducted 15 testing events and more than 1,300 tests cases during that time.

Ken Kolderup
Mesh networking provides the capacity of BLE nodes to be deployed around a facility and send data to each other, as well as to an unlimited number of other BLE devices, such as sensors, mobile phones or tags that may move around their space. In that way, a large facility—such as a warehouse, a manufacturing site or an office building, for example—could install the nodes without requiring cables, routers or hubs. This would enable the facility to accomplish such tasks as adjusting lighting or thermostats, or to view the locations of thousands of items or individuals if they have a BLE-enabled tag.

Any modern smartphone or tablet can be used to configure a BLE mesh node, as well as serve as part of the mesh network itself. Ken Kolderup, SIG's VP of marketing, says he expects to see products on the market using mesh networks within less than six months.

In 2010, SIG announced Bluetooth Low Energy for point-to-point data transfer between devices. The BLE technology is being used to share location-based content by installing a beacon that transmits to BLE-enabled devices within a beacon's proximity. "Over the past few years," Kolderup says, "this has really taken off." The technology is currently in use for providing product information in stores and exhibit information at museums, as well as information at conference centers, bus stations and other locales.

Beacons are also being used for wayfinding, to help visitors navigate an airport or other facility. "It's evolving to a very, very large market," Kolderup says. In fact, 17,000 new BLE-enabled products were released within the last year, with nearly 3.5 billion products shipped. Until now, however, BLE devices had the capacity to transmit to each other only on a point-to-point basis, while a mesh network could cover a much larger area.

"As mesh is a major new capability being added to Bluetooth," Kolderup states, "we find that it is taking us in new directions." This includes building automation, wireless sensor networks or asset tracking for which tens, hundreds or thousands of devices need to be able to communicate with each other.

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