Bluetooth is found in all manner of devices as a means of communicating with each other. Think smartphone connecting to smartwatch, music player connecting to wireless headphones and even Internet of Things and smart home devices.
Internet of Things explained: What is it, and can it really change the world?
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has now adopted a new Bluetooth 5 format that will introduce a raft of improvements over the current 4-series standard. And because the Bluetooth SIG has set out the specification for Bluetooth 5, manufacturers can now implement it in their devices, the SIG says within the next 2 to 6 months, so we can expect it to feature in the new wave of 2017 smartphones.
But what improvements will Bluetooth 5 offer? Allow us to tell all.
What is Bluetooth 5?
Bluetooth 5 claims to have four times the range of the current standard, v4.2, so while at the moment you may put a pair of wireless headphones on at home and want to move around the house, or connect to some Bluetooth speakers, the signal will likely drop out if you move too far away. With Bluetooth 5 that should no longer be the case.
The new standard will also transfer data at double the speed of v4.2, from 1Mbps to 2Mbps and the capacity of data broadcasts will increase 800 per cent. The Bluetooth SIG says the increase in data will allow for “improved and more context relevant solutions”.
But, there is a slight catch, in that you won’t be able to get increased range and increased speed at the same time. The Bluetooth SIG explains it as being like a lever, where you can choose one or the other, depending on the application. A firmware update for example will benefit from increased speed, whereas smart home devices will benefit from an increased range so they can talk to each other.
How will Bluetooth 5 change the Internet of Things?
And the Internet of Things is a market that will heavily benefit from the new format.
The increased range means Bluetooth 5 will be able to connect an entire home, flat or even small buildings. Mark Powell, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG said: “Bluetooth is revolutionising how people experience the IoT. Bluetooth 5 continues to drive this revolution by delivering reliable IoT connections and mobilising the adoption of beacons, which in turn will decrease connection barriers and enable a seamless IoT experience”.
When Powell refers to beacons, he is talking about indoor navigation in areas such as shopping centres. Some shopping centres already offer this service, but with Bluetooth 5, tracking your location inside will be more accurate than before.
With the extra range on offer with Bluetooth 5, devices around the home will be able to talk to each other a lot more easily than before. Mark Powell sees this as a crucial time to introduce Bluetooth 5, as the technology is expected to be in one-third of all IoT devices by 2020. The Bluetooth SIG estimates there will be 13.9 billion wireless product shipments in the same time frame.
He even sees commercial, outdoor and industrial uses being ideal markets for the new protocol.
When will I be able to use Bluetooth 5?
You can use Bluetooth 5 now, or at least, from the 28 April when the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus are released. They’re the first phones to be released that will use the new technology. By having Bluetooth 5, the Galaxy S8 phones have been gifted a “dual audio” mode that will let them wirelessly stream music to two Bluetooth devices at one time.
With any luck, other device manufacturers will begin implement the new standard in their future products. However, the other big flagship phones of 2017 don’t have it, so we may need to wait until 2018 for them to do so.
You don’t need to worry about replacing your current Bluetooth devices though, as Bluetooth 5 is backwards compatible. The low-energy version of the format will work with any Bluetooth device running version 4.0 – 4.2 and that also has a low-energy option. However to take full advantage of the new services Bluetooth 5 provides, you will need to make sure your kit is up to date.