Bluetooth Sees Boost in Development With Mesh, BLE Advancements

Bluetooth World speakers and Bluetooth Special Interest Group officials have reported a surge in development and product releases involving Bluetooth Mesh and BLE for smart buildings and smart homes.
Published: October 25, 2018

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) celebrated its 20-year anniversary at Bluetooth World 2018, which was held in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sept. 18-19, with a broader offering of solutions that include Bluetooth Mesh, the use of Bluetooth beacons in smart buildings and Bluetooth-based audio. Following the event, Ken Kolderup, the Bluetooth SIG’s marketing VP, speculated that these trends are ushering Bluetooth into a new era.

A lot of that growth is fueled by the Bluetooth Mesh standard, was released in July 2017. Since that time, more than 65 products with mesh-networking capability have been released, the Bluetooth SIG reports. Bluetooth Mesh technology vendors include Cypress, MindTree, Nordic Semiconductor, Silicon Labs, Silvair and Qualcomm.

At the Bluetooth SIG event, many of the programs, discussions and panels centered around Bluetooth Mesh and its trajectory into lighting and lighting controls. This led into IoT-based deployments that could include asset management, as well as monitoring occupancy and building maintenance status.

One function that Bluetooth Mesh offers is enabling digital buildings to provide data for a digital twin of a building, in order to help manage its use and activity within it. For instance, said Szymon Slupik, Silvair’s president and CTO, building maintenance at hotels can be managed by detecting and transmitting data via Bluetooth Mesh if there is a problem such as a burned-out light fixture. Detection of building infrastructure failures, Slupik explained, is typically performed manually. Automating that process not only reduces manual labor, but could improve hotel customers’ satisfaction. “If you detect a failing lamp before the guest arrives,” he said, “think how much value that offers” before a guest makes a phone call to complain about it.

According to Slupik, Bluetooth Mesh is also being used for IoT services, for the purpose of asset tracking or space utilization. The latter data could help managers to understand how a building is being used, and to direct cleaning personnel to unoccupied areas during the day. By using the technology in this way, he said, a European study found that each sensor device saved €30 ($35) a year in costs related to delays in service or inefficiency.

Because lighting technology is changing, Slupik said, the time may be right for a technology that connects to light fixtures. Incandescent and fluorescent lights are being replaced by LEDs, he noted, and are thus creating an opportunity for technology providers. Introducing light-sensing or other IoT solutions with Bluetooth Mesh devices on fixtures as they are replaced, Slupik added, is “like a huge avalanche of rocks coming down and you can simply roll with them.”

The many companies now offering Bluetooth Mesh-based solutions now must compete for that business. Companies need to make themselves the provider of choice, Slupik told attendees, by being affordable, low in complexity and low in power—and they need to be simple to commission and maintain. The low-power demand is an inherent feature of the technology, he argued, as sensors do not require batteries or power supplies since they can harvest energy.

Slupik cited the Bluetooth Mesh standard’s lack of a single point of failure, explaining that if one light were to fail to transmit data, the technology’s distributed approach would enable the mesh to continue operating without it. However, he said, systems can go far beyond lighting management to provide insights on environmental conditions and space utilization, and can track and transmit the health status of the sensors and the lights to which they are attached.

Because of all these features, Bluetooth Mesh use in smart building is anticipated to grow tenfold by 2022, according to Chuck Sabin, the Bluetooth SIG’s senior director of business strategy and planning. Based on data from ABI Research, he said, 40 percent of connected end points are anticipated to be smart lighting by 2021. Sabin predicted that 83 percent of companies will invest in predictive maintenance during the next two years, noting that Bluetooth Mesh offers a solution to enable that maintenance automatically. He expects Bluetooth will follow a trajectory that begins with a wireless connection between a phone, a tablet and a PC, involves audio and connected devices, and enables smart buildings, smart homes and smart cities. He said 5.2 billion Bluetooth-enabled devices are expected to be shipped in 2022.

Bluetooth Mesh-based solutions can be expected to emerge in the smart-home market during the next year as well, members of the Bluetooth SIG predicted. The association has launched a working group focused on the smart home, Kolderup says, that is chaired by representatives of technology giant Alibaba. The company is working with the Bluetooth SIG to help accelerate the technology’s adoption in smart homes. As part of this effort, the working group is developing application layers known as models, and are developing such models around common smart-home use cases.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) has evolved further as well, with the use of beacons for more precise location by utilizing angle of arrival (AOA) and angle of departure (AOD) measurements of transmissions. Pervious BLE specifications supported the use of received signal strength (RSSI), but that alone did not provide the precision afforded by the latest functionality. With the release of AOA and AOD, Kolderup explained, companies can now offer a solution featuring the location granularity traditionally provided by RFID (less than a square meter).

“For us, the greatest celebration is about how ubiquitous Bluetooth has become and how broad the portfolio is,” Kolderup states. “The pace of innovation is really high” at this time. At the same time, he adds, “We feel we’re just getting started.”