SAN JOSE, Calif. — Bluetooth can act as a low-power scout for wireless devices and services thanks to a new feature launched at Bluetooth World here today (March 15). Bluetooth proponents aim to further extend the link later this year with support for mesh networking, 2 Mbit/second data rates and longer distances, competing with 802.15.4 links such as 6LoWPAN and Zigbee.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) released its Transport Discovery Service (TDS) spec. It lets Bluetooth discover and initiate connections with any other available wireless link. TDS aims to let users turn off higher power links, such as LTE or Wi-Fi, until they need their bandwidth.
Standards groups will need to define their own TDS profiles to enable connections. “TDS will be the common language products use to discover each other and connect,” said Mark Powell, Bluetooth SIG executive director, speaking in a press statement.
Separately the SIG expects to announces specs later this year that will:
- Double bandwidth to 2 Mbits/second using larger packet payloads
- Quadruple range to up to 120 meters using a new frequency modulation
- Support mesh networking for use in lights, locks, HVAC systems and sensors
The bandwidth and range increases could be implemented in firmware, said Errett Kroeter, vice president of marketing of the SIG. “If there was any knock on Bluetooth it was about range and creating a network, so this opens whole new opportunities and accelerates use of Bluetooth in the home and factory floor,” Kroeter said.
Nearly three billion Bluetooth devices are expected to ship this year and as many as five billion in 2020 when it will be in a third of the nodes for the Internet of Things, he added. The SIG has not yet decided if it will package the 2016 upgrades as a version 4.x or 5.0.
Bluetooth started out as a wireless link for earbuds. Since it became ubiquitous in smartphones, makers and startups have become quick to adopt it for consumer IoT devices. However Zigbee and 6LoWPAN won sockets in Nest thermostats and many other home automation systems.
Bluetooth’s share of the smart home market is expect to rise from 8% today to more than 26% by 2021, according to ABI Research. “However, 802.15.4 based solutions such as ZigBee and Thread are also forecasted for strong growth, rising from just under 17% of the market today to almost 30% by 2021,” said Andrew Zignani, a research analyst at ABI.
Zigbee’s need for a gateway and Bluetooth’s ability to ride the smartphone will give Bluetooth a boost, Zignani said. On the other hand “Bluetooth’s version of mesh networking is likely to be a flooding implementation vs. ZigBee’s routing,” giving Zigbee a leg up, he added.
Ultimately, “there is not going to be a single connectivity solution…but a combination of Wi-Fi‒, Bluetooth-, and 802.15.4-enabled devices, among others, each with their own strengths and limitations,” opening a door for multiprotocol chips and home routers such as Google’s OnHub, he said.
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A vendor of 802.14.5 chips for Zigbee, said despite the upgrades Bluetooth’s popularity will remain confined to smartphones and wearables. GreenPeak shipped 100 million Zigbee chips as of last August, said Cees Links, chief executive of the company, estimating the ink could have an installed base approach a billion units.
“I am personally wearing four Bluetooth LE chips -- three on my bike, one on my body -- but [they are] not in the home,” he said.
Standard wars are delaying market acceptance of wireless devices in the home,” Links said. “If we can learn from history, both ZigBee and BLE will be required, he said, predicting combo chips supporting Bluetooth and Zigbee will emerge.
“When a device is at home it can talk directly to the router with ZigBee/Thread and synchronize over the Internet, [and] when the device is on the road, it talks with Bluetooth via the smart phone,” he added.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times