High Expectations for Bluetooth Low Energy

Carl Weinschenk

The week after July 4th is traditionally when the summer doldrums kick in in earnest. The lethargy should be even great this year, with triple-digit temperatures baking the East Coast. However, the summertime blues hasn't stopped the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) from generating a reaction from the release of the core specification for version 4.0 of its standard.

This is not a small deal for Bluetooth, since the new version contains long-awaited low-energy functionality. The press release sums it up:

Many markets such as health care, sports and fitness, security, and home entertainment will be enhanced with the availability of small coin-cell battery powered wireless products and sensors now enabled by Bluetooth wireless technology.

Beta News explains that Bluetooth low energy operates in the 2.4 GHz ISM band and uses frequency-hopping techniques to maintain signal integrity and avoid interference and conflicts. There are three types of devices: Those that send packets one way, those that listen for packets and those that operate in two-way mode.

Creative Connectivity's Nick Hunn writes that this is a very big deal, indeed. The key is that the spec calls for Bluetooth low energy to be off for most of the time. This means, he says

.that the battery essentially lasts for the life of the product. So you can design connected devices that never need charging. If you don't want a battery, you can use a tiny solar cell instead. Bluetooth low energy takes a fraction of the power of other so-called low power wireless technologies. The chips are so small, that a complete product can be made that's the same size as the coin cell that powers it, and only a few millimetres thicker.

Hunn describes the history of the low-energy spec and the downward price curve, which is likely to be significant. He suggests that the market could be in the trillions. The West Technology Research Group suggests that Bluetooth Low Energy will represent almost half of wireless sensor shipments by 2015.

The point is that the new spec leads to connectivity that essentially is always there. In time, there may be little need to think about connecting devices to the Internet or other networks at all. The costs will so low that it will be a self-perpetuating arm of the business, a sector that in essence will hide in plain sight. The "Internet of things," as some observers have labeled it, will be a big step closer.

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