What is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and is it really the “New Standard”?
If you’ve ever used Bluetooth on a device, you’ll know how frustrating it can be sometimes. Your battery drains faster than usual. If you move mere inches out of range, your connection drops. And that’s if the devices will pair in the first place.
What may be an annoyance for you is a big problem for the Internet of Things (IoT) community. Bluetooth is a protocol available for connected devices – in other words, Bluetooth is a language devices can use to speak to one another. It’s also predicted to be used by 60% of all devices by 2021. Users won’t rely on systems if they can’t move freely while using devices, and if communication between devices is unpredictable.
The adoption of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE or Bluetooth LE) as the new standard looks set to fix many of the old issues of Bluetooth.
Originally marketed as Bluetooth Smart, BLE’s main aim is to operate at a lower cost and with drastically reduced power consumption. That’s not to say you’ll lose communication range. Far from it – BLE aims to offer four times the same range as Bluetooth 4.2.
BLE dates back to 2006, first introduced as Wibree by Nokia. Adopted into the Bluetooth standard as part of the 4.0 spec in 2010, BLE already appears in today’s mobile operating systems.
The Difference Between Classic Bluetooth and Bluetooth LE
Bluetooth was designed for continuous streaming. That’s why it worked so well in wireless mobile phone headsets, or accessories like keyboards, speakers, or printers.
And Classic Bluetooth is always connected – you wouldn’t want your wireless headphones cutting out during your favorite Beyoncé track. That constant stream of data uses a lot of power.
BLE stays in sleep mode until an application needs the connection. Data rates are high to keep connection times short. That extends battery life from months to years for applications that only exchange data at intervals.
So Bluetooth LE is perfect for fitness trackers, other health-based wearables, promotional trackers like iBeacon, or travel apps that only pinpoint your location when you ask them to.
Another advantage of BLE is its compatibility with all mobile platforms. Product designers can make products that can use BLE to talk to iOS, Windows, or Android phones out of the box.
If BLE Has Been Around for so Long Why Are We Only Talking About it Now?
The recent release of Bluetooth 5 (which brings improvements to BLE) means that most of us will get our first taste of BLE soon. The Samsung Galaxy S8 handset shipped with Bluetooth 5 enabled and other manufacturers will undoubtedly follow suit.
BLE has the potential for use in IoT devices too. No single protocol has yet emerged as the industry standard, so many products support Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Zigbee. They may do so until one becomes the protocol of choice.
Communication range between devices often means many users opt for Wi-Fi within their smart home. But with Bluetooth 5, the communication range increases by four times. So users can control their smart home devices from all over their house.
Given BLE uses less power than Wi-Fi, that can only benefit the home user.
The Verge has also noted the inclusion of Bluetooth mesh networking with Bluetooth 5. All that really means is that the range between devices becomes irrelevant. If your thermostat is too far from the temperature sensor, then the signals would just fail under Classic Bluetooth. Using BLE and a mesh network, nearby devices would relay data from the sensor to the thermostat.
Since many mobile phones and devices already have a Bluetooth option, running a smart home will become easier and more efficient.
The Technology Still Needs to Catch Up with Bluetooth 5
While mobile phones have Bluetooth 5 capability, many of the available smart home devices need to catch up. Manufacturers may need to push through firmware updates or release new versions of hardware to allow users to get the most out of their devices.
In the meantime, you’ll need a solution to control your smart devices from a single interface. The SURE Universal remote allows you to do exactly that. You can even enable Amazon’s Alexa through the app to control your smart home using only your voice.
Over to you – do you think Bluetooth 5 with BLE technology will change how you run your smart home?