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New Bluetooth Spec Delivers Longer Range, Faster Speed

Next year's wireless headphones, fitness trackers, glucose monitors and in-car audio traffic navigators are expected to offer a longer range, faster performance and a larger broadcast message capacity with this week's adoption of Bluetooth 5. Bluetooth is a low-power, short-range wireless standard that shows up in consumer electronics, home automation, medical devices, automotive and a lot of other product categories. It's the technology that enabled Apple to eliminate its headphone jack from the latest iPhone models; the company's coming AirPods ear buds rely on Bluetooth to connect to the device.

The new specification, officially approved by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), delivers four times the range, double the speed and eight times the broadcast message capacity of the previous standard, Bluetooth 4.x. Version 5 is expected to provide coverage across a house-sized building and deliver more responsive performance (2 megabits per second compared to 4.x's one Mbps). In addition, Bluetooth 5 adds functionality to address interference with other wireless technologies.

According to Mark Powell, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG, the overall spec will enable "whole-home and building coverage, as well as new use cases for outdoor, industrial, and commercial applications." The SIG is made up of companies that use Bluetooth in their products.

Powell also expects the new specification to "revolutionize" implementation of the Internet of Things. According to ABI Research projections, Bluetooth will surface in more than 5 billion "smart" and "smart ready" devices by 2021. A particular area of growth will be Bluetooth beacons, which surface in personal tracking tags, retail and advertising. In a market data report, ABI said it expected Bluetooth beacons in those markets to see annual growth of 133 percent between 2016 and 2021.

As industry analyst Andrew Zignani noted, "Increased broadcast messaging capacity in Bluetooth 5 will help drive these markets, as beacons will be able to provide much higher quality content and richer contextual information than ever before."

Powell said that consumers could expect to see products built with Bluetooth 5 within two to six months of the release of the new specification.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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