Everyone knows the name, Bluetooth. Sometimes we know what Bluetooth does. It connects your smartphone to your car stereo, for example. In fact, Bluetooth is pretty much standard these days in devices that need a low-power wireless connection to communicate over short distances. Bluetooth SIG, the consortium of tech companies that oversee the Bluetooth standard, wants to make Bluetooth useful as we begin to rely more and more on smart devices in our homes and workplaces.
Enter: Bluetooth Mesh. The technology has the lofty goal of becoming the standard for low-power smart devices. The idea is to have Bluetooth devices act as mesh network that can communicate over large distances; something Bluetooth isn’t exactly known for right now.
Imagine a network that uses Bluetooth to communicate. For example, when you enter your home the Bluetooth on your phone can tell your front entrance lights to turn on, which could tell the thermostat at the top of the stairs to turn the heat up to your favorite temperature. That’s a small-scale example of Bluetooth Mesh.
How about a bigger example? Large office buildings could save money on electricity by only having lights on in rooms where people are present. Entire floors could turn off and on when people leave or enter. That’s the idea behind Bluetooth Mesh.
Best of all, Bluetooth Mesh doesn’t require any new hardware. Of course, manufacturers would have to release updates to their devices in order to support the Mesh protocol which may not happen quickly, or at all, or some companies. So, long story short, new devices that launch in the coming months could very likely support Bluetooth Mesh but the device sitting next to you right now may never get that support. As far as wireless networking protocols go, Bluetooth Mesh could see some early, quick success.
Of course, Bluetooth Mesh isn’t the only player on the market. Phillips Hue bulbs operate on the ZigBee standard. The one major advantage that Bluetooth does have is name recognition. Everyone knows the Bluetooth name which should help it overcome any initial difficulty breaking into the market and stealing the hearts and minds of consumers. The group that manages WiFi is also working on a low-power spec that is taking aim straight at Bluetooth. We could be in for a bit of a standards war that we haven’t seen since the days of BluRay and HD DVD.
Speaking of WiFi, Bluetooth Mesh isn’t planning to take on WiFi as your new home internet standard. Bluetooth still can’t transfer data faster than 1Mbps so Bluetooth Mesh won’t allow you to be able to start streaming 4K Netflix over a network of Bluetooth-enabled lightbulbs.
Bluetooth SIG has also taken care of ensuring Bluetooth Mesh networks will be secure. Each message sent over the network will have a unique sequence number which will help prevent hackers from gaining entry to the network. Bluetooth Mesh also offers different layers of encryption. For example, your workplace could have an app that allows you to unlock doors as you move throughout the building, but only your employers app would have the ability to actually generate the necessary codes.
It’s likely we will see Bluetooth Mesh start small as devices begin to roll out onto the market. Lightbulbs will likely be the starting point which clearly makes sense if you’re trying to create a widespread mesh network. Every building needs lightbulbs, every room needs lightbulbs… What better way to start building out your new mesh network? After that we might see door locks, thermostats, entertainment devices, and more start to join the party.
Another exciting aspect of Bluetooth Mesh is that there may not be any need for hubs like we see in many smart home setups now. Ideally, Bluetooth Mesh networks could be set up using Bluetooth devices like smartphones, tablets, or laptops. No more hubs sitting in the corner that you need to work with to make your smart home or smart workplace work effectively.
Stay tuned for what’s coming in the area of Bluetooth Mesh. As mentioned, the protocol doesn’t need any new hardware so, theoretically, devices could start launching very soon and we may see Bluetooth Mesh networks sooner rather than later. The internet of things is just starting to take off and Bluetooth Mesh may be the fuel to help it reach new heights. For now, we wait; but the future is looking very exciting.