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Bluetooth makes a mesh of itself with new spec

Up to 32,000 nodes without routers in the middle and battery life measured in years

By Simon Sharwood, 21 Jul 2017

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has released the spec for Bluetooth Mesh, a many-to-many extension of the technology.

Readers are doubtless familiar with Bluetooth's point-to-point connectivity features that enable you to do things like pair a wireless keyboard with a computer. Bluetooth's second application is broadcasting, most often used “beacons” that offer one-to-many links and are often used to provide location-dependent services or information.

Bluetooth Mesh aims to make the standard capable of carrying data for longer distances, by bouncing messages through Bluetooth devices to their eventual destination.

“Hang on”, you may well be saying at this point, “WiFi has superior range and is also good at mesh networking. So what gives?”

As ever, power and money. All devices on a Bluetooth Mesh will use Bluetooth Low Energy (LE), but only main-powered nodes get the job of relaying messages. Nodes reliant on batteries need only connect every four days, making it possible to build sensors that should last years on a single coin-cell battery. Sipping power frugally means Bluetooth boffins expect it will be possible to do things like build asset-tracking Bluetooth widgets that can be periodically polled across a warehouse floor, with devices that already need power and are worthy of frequent control – think light bulbs - helping to move the data around instead of needing to build a dedicated network.

There's another dimension to power, too: the SIG reckons its twenty-year heritage gives it impressive muscle, in terms of user base and implementers, that users would be wise to recognise before considering alternatives. That's not a “nice alternative network standard you've got there, it would be a shame if something happened to it” proposition, rather a strong hint to go with the herd rather than being an outlier who gets picked off.

Money comes from the chance to avoid costlier network builds, because Bluetooth meshes can do without central controllers like routers. The low price of Bluetooth-equipped kit, the possibility some current hardware with enough RAM can be upgraded to participate in Bluetooth meshes and the Bluetooth community's depth and breadth of experience.

This is all of course aimed squarely at the Internet of Things market, which explains why the Bluetooth SIG is also making much of its security credentials: thing-makers sure can use a leg-up in that department!

The new specs are here. ®

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