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Can Bluetooth power the IoT mesh network?

Can Bluetooth power the IoT mesh network?

Bluetooth is already widely employed in cell phones, but increasingly it’s found in other smart devices, including medical and environmental monitors.  In fact, according to Errett Kroeter, senior director of brand and developer marketing at the Bluetooth SIG, about 3 billion Bluetooth-enabled devices are expected to ship this year alone, and that number will grow to over 5 billion annual shipments by 2019.

What's more, Bluetooth uses very little power. Standard Bluetooth runs on 1 watt, while the newer Bluetooth Smart uses only 0.01 to 0.5 watts, depending on the specific implementation.  And despite this low power requirement, Bluetooth Smart has a range of roughly 300 feet.

These two factors make Bluetooth an excellent candidate for connecting devices in an Internet of Things (IoT).  There's only one snag.  Bluetooth currently is architected as a hub-and-spoke network.  Bluetooth devices communicate only with a single hub, while an IoT network requires a mesh architecture in which devices can communicate directly with each other, passing data along to its ultimate destinations.

So in March, the first meeting of the Bluetooth Smart Mesh Working Group gathered engineers to begin work on developing a standard for Bluetooth mesh networks. Reportedly, more than 80 companies have already volunteered to join the new working group.

In fact, said Kroeter, some companies have already deployed their own proprietary mesh networks for Bluetooth devices.  Most notably, the consumer electronics company CSR has installed  a technology that it claims can connect up to 64,000 Bluetooth devices.  Zuli and Seed have also set up mesh networks.  The problem, said Kroeter, is that these technologies are not compatible.

"We want to provide a standardized way," said Kroeter.  "What we don't want is to have fractured ways, because it doesn't result in mass implementation." 

At working group's first meeting last month, the group agreed to have a standardized solution published early in 2016. 

Right now, they’re working on the  architecture, Kroeter said.  "They're starting from a place where this would be usable by anything that is Bluetooth 4.0 and higher.  That would mean that it would be usable by most of the equipment that's out there." 

Security is the priority in developing a new mesh networking standard. And because devices will be able to communicate directly with each other, an entirely new security model is required. 

The working group's engineers will also be working with each other and with industry members to find the best compromise on the range for communications.  Kroeter said, however, that the team wants to keep power requirements low, so the effective range of devices in Bluetooth mesh networks may not be any greater than the current 300 feet.

While there are particulars to be worked out, Kroeter said the hurdles to be overcome are entirely manageable.  "They're not exactly scratching their heads to figure out how to do this," he said.

Posted by Patrick Marshall on Apr 07, 2015 at 1:39 PM


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