Don’t let its cute-sounding name or common uses fool you, Bluetooth is a serious technology for Internet of Things applications. Developed by Ericsson in 1994, Bluetooth uses short-wavelength UHF waves between 2402 and 2480 MHz. Widely known as the best wireless transmission technology for audio, and the ubiquitous solution for hands-free calling in automobiles, Bluetooth is making waves in consumer and business IoT where device-to-device communication needs to be fast, easy, and wireless. Bluetooth won’t support every IoT need, but the sheer number of Bluetooth-enabled devices on the market and the ease of programming Bluetooth compatible applications makes it an important technology to familiarize yourself with as your business implements IoT solutions.
Everyday Uses for Bluetooth
Some might call it “Your Home 2.0,” thanks to all the Bluetooth appliances you can hook up from your driveway to your kitchen. According to PCWorld.com, 3 billion Bluetooth-enabled devices shipped in 2015, and analysts predict 25 billion or more will be in use by 2020. Odds are that you (or someone in your office) use your smartphone in your car for audio streaming, GPS updates, or hands-free calling.
But Bluetooth has much more to offer than a safer, more attentive commute though. Devices ranging from coffee machines to thermostats are being built with Bluetooth access, meaning when you wake up, all it takes to brew your coffee and warm your house are a few taps on your phone.
Health and fitness is another area of broad Bluetooth adoption. Wearable tracking devices and pedometers – like the popular FitBit -- easily sync to smartphones using Bluetooth. For chronic health conditions like sleep apnea, remote patient monitors now equipped to track a person’s progress and the nuances of a medical condition, plus archive information, via Bluetooth. Imagine focusing all of your energy on your workout or illness with the peace of mind that your important information is being recorded for you.
In industry, Bluetooth is primarily used in machine-to-machine communications and connections before information is sent to a gateway since Bluetooth makes it very easy for devices to communicate with each other. For example, in a factory or warehouse, employees can receive Bluetooth alerts from machinery on their tablets or smartphones, and this information can be logged for record-keeping purposes, saving the company money or even employees’ lives.
Bluetooth Strengths and Weaknesses
The primary strength of Bluetooth is communication between devices such as smartphones or tablets and specific Bluetooth-enabled appliances. Because Bluetooth does not directly connect to the Internet like cellular or satellite communications, it does require a gateway for access. Bluetooth currently has a range of about 328 feet (100 meters), which makes it a great choice for home and small business applications. For larger spaces, multiple gateways can be set up throughout entire facilities to receive Bluetooth transmissions.
Bluetooth SIG unveiled Bluetooth 5 in March 2016, and this will quadruple the technology’s current range and may make Bluetooth more attractive than Wi-Fi for IoT applications since it drains less battery. Even with increased range, Bluetooth IoT requires that device-to-device communications happen within a certain radius, and once the devices have communicated, their data still needs to reach a gateway for Internet access. Compare that to satellite or wireless cellular networks that can track object data regardless of position and instantly communicate with the internet. Cellular connectivity will continue to be a better choice in remote locations, such as when used to track oil and construction equipment.
Bluetooth Connecting IoT in the Future
Bluetooth’s roles and uses in automobiles and homes will continue to grow and expand. It’s not farfetched to imagine receiving automatic traffic updates or weather reports on your dashboard during your daily commute or scripting home automations using Bluetooth to set lighting, thermostat, and home theater systems for the perfect mood or occasion. As gateway creation for Bluetooth becomes easier and less costly to develop (PCWorld.com states that a gateway can be built on a $35 Rasbperry Pi computer), industry will find Bluetooth a more commonplace, cost effective solution for IoT/M2M communications. Bluetooth IoT could lead to smarter waste management in cities, more accurate health monitoring, and swift communication across a range of digital devices.
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