Bluetooth 5 & Beacons

ABI Research estimates that there will be nearly 400Mn+ Bluetooth enabled Beacons by 2021. The applications of the technology range from proximity marketing in retail to tracking of assets and contribute more towards advertising attribution, where it has been used experimentally by different providers.

Given that Bluetooth Low Energy has become ubiquitously available in all smart phones at this moment, it can drive adoption of IoT which is seemingly “connectionless” and also driven primarily from the cloud. In order for consumers to realize the benefits of IoT, the handoff between devices and systems need to become seamless.

What is Bluetooth 5 & How does it help Beacons?

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Bluetooth® 5 is a transformative update that significantly increases the range, speed and broadcast messaging capacity of Bluetooth applications. Released on 6 December 2016, Bluetooth 5 quadruples range and doubles speed of low energy connections while increasing the capacity of connectionless data broadcasts by eight times. It achieves all this alongside its industry-leading power performance.

Increased range – Upto 4 times the current range of Bluetooth v4.2

Increased range will mean that Beacons can be used in places where installation was not possible earlier. BLE v4.x had a range of 50-80mts depending on where it was used and the environment of usage. Bluetooth 5 will lead to at least doubling if not, quadrupling of the range accounting for the environment of usage. Even if it can stretch to 30-40 mts indoors it can lead to useful applications in home automation, leading to more useful IoT devices/applications.

Also, large open spaces which stretch more than 80-100 mts can be covered with a single beacon rather than requiring installation in multiple intermediate points which might have been the case earlier. Places like sports grounds and event locations can be covered with lesser hardware.

Data transfer rate doubles to 2Mbps

In general, this would mean that devices sync faster, transfer data quicker and can possibly stream higher quality data giving rise to a new class of BLE devices. However, this isn’t going to be a deal breaker/maker for beacons. Upgrades management can become easier and information can reach end users faster. The real benefit of this will happen when Beacons can also use Web Bluetooth and have some ability to become devices that work as 2-way communication devices.

Please note that the theoretical speed is 2Mbps which would mean that the throughput will be somewhere in the range of 1.5-1.6 Mbps. This means that speed in a single direction will be half of that as the throughput refers to send & receive combined.

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Capacity of data broadcasts will increase by 800%

Beacons which supported v4.x could only send 31 bytes of information in the advertising packet. So, effectively you had to build in your protocol to be used inside these 31 bytes which was restrictive to transfer data that would add more relevance. However, with this additional capacity supplementary sensors can send a higher amount of data thru’ the medium. Also, in the specific case of Eddystone URLs, we can fit in complex URLs going forward with this increased size. This isn’t a huge direct benefit but can lead to lesser redirections of the URLs leading to better page load times.

But, this goes without saying that in any wireless standard increased range and increased speed don’t go together. But, the good point is that the SIG has ensured that all these features have come with lesser power usage, thanks to better use of the frequency spectrum.

The 2 industries to look out for with the additional benefits that Bluetooth 5 will bring are

Asset Tracking – Better range & accuracy; Also, lower infrastructure costs upfront.

Indoor/Home automation – Better indoor range & throughput

Going forward, BLE and beacons will provide one of the most important technologies required for delivering IoT benefits. The ability to deliver proximity data and ability to provide 2 way communication thru’ Web Bluetooth will make BLE and in specific use cases beacons incredibly useful.

(Bluetooth logo – © 2017 Bluetooth SIG, Inc)

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