Bluetooth is about to get some significant new mesh networking capabilities -- and the best bit is, you may not need new hardware to benefit from them.
Mesh networking will make it simpler to connect sensors across industrial sites, or to create smart home or building automation networks. Rather than wasting energy shouting to be heard by a distant gateway, devices will be able to whisper to their neighbors, asking them to pass messages.
It will offer a new way for devices to join the Internet of Things. Once a building has a mesh network to control lighting, say, other devices can use it as wireless infrastructure for other applications such as asset tracking and wayfinding, said Martin Woolley, technical program manager at Bluetooth SIG, the organization behind the Bluetooth standard.
Bluetooth treats mesh networking as just another networking topology built on Bluetooth Low Energy, so if you have a device that supports that, chances are a software update is all that's needed for it to join a mesh. That even goes for things like smartphones and tablets: If they support Bluetooth LE, then all they need to start meshing is an app.
In theory, Tuesday's publication of Version 1.0 of the Bluetooth mesh networking standard is the starting gun for the race to launch compatible devices, but in practice, that race is well under way.
The industry is already familiar with the specification's requirements, with around 120 companies participating in the working group to develop it, compared to 10 or 20 in a typical Bluetooth SIG working group, Woolley said.
Those requirements have already been tested, too. "We don't finish the spec then do some testing: We've already had 15 testing events where we've covered the whole spec," he said. Hardware modules with the Bluetooth mesh stack could be on the market in a matter of months, he said. Vendors might try to charge extra for the additional software, but Woolley said he wasn't aware of any additional patent licenses needed to access the new capabilities.
Not all nodes are created equal in a Bluetooth mesh network. Some -- controllers in light fittings, for example -- may have plentiful power while others -- light switches, say, or temperature sensors -- may need to run for years on one battery. The specification provides two ways for such devices to save their energy.
One is the "publish and subscribe" model for sending messages. A kitchen light switch, for example, does not need to expend power maintaining a list of the addresses of the devices it is expected to turn on and off. Instead, it publishes a "turn on" message marked for the attention of the "kitchen lighting" list. The message is relayed around the mesh and devices decide for themselves whether to act on it based on whether or not they subscribe to the list.
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