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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.
Initially, companies are developing solutions using the BLE mesh network for lighting automation. "This serves as a good entry point for other solutions," Kolderup says. For instance, if BLE mesh nodes are built into light switches, an individual could program them using a BLE-enabled smartphone and a provisioning app. That programming command could be received by the closest light switch and then be forwarded via the mesh network to all other switches throughout a building. In that way, the deployment of intelligent lighting could be considerably lower in cost and easier to program than traditional systems.
Such a network could also be utilized for environmental controls. If one BLE node were connected to a sensor detecting sunlight, for instance, that node could communicate with other BLE nodes throughout a building to, for instance, prompt the lowering of blinds based on increased light levels.
Additionally, the nodes could be used for predictive maintenance in a manufacturing or industrial setting. If, for example, a vibration sensor were to detect that a mechanical asset was beginning to fail, the BLE node could issue an alert throughout the mesh network in order to get the response needed from facility personnel quickly.
A mesh network detects the movements of thousands of tagged assets or inventory items moving around an area in which BLE nodes are installed. It offers a low-cost alternative to an active radio frequency identification real-time locating system.
The specifications are available at SIG's website, along with access to test and qualification tools. The organization has completed interoperability testing prior to the release of the specification, building representative networks of more than 1,000 nodes.
The mesh specification operates on BLE 4.0 devices and greater. Encryption is provided in a network and application layer for security against hacks. The nodes will also be interoperable. "We have a strong belief that for certain markets to flourish or grow," Kolderup says, "proven interoperability has to be available."
Because the specification requires only a change to the software, as opposed to hardware changes, Kolderup expects products leveraging the BLE mesh network will be made commercially available within months—most likely beginning with building-automation solutions.
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