Over the past few years, everybody has become familiar with the phrase Internet of Things (IoT) and the world has been told to expect big things from this market. However, the growth of the IoT market has up to now been not been as fast as many had predicted, particularly in the ‘smart home’ arena. A number of things have contributed to this slow development and it could be argued that chief among them was a lack of a wireless communications technology standard to underpin the industry.
And what a number of choices there are. Anyone looking to get into the market has to consider the strengths and benefits of well-known options such as cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but also alternatives such as Thread and Zigbee, both of which are based on IEEE 802.15.4 LowPAN technologies such as LORA, Sigfox, NB-IoT (a form of cellular) and Z-wave.
Over the past few years, a great many hours at a great many IoT conferences have been spent by representatives of all of the various wireless technologies making their pitch as to why their solution is best suited to be the wireless communications standard for IoT. Up until now though, there has been no clear winner.
To give them a chance of taking a lead much work has been put in by the major wireless communications standards to make their technology IoT friendly and the recent news by the Bluetooth SIG is a significant step towards achieving that goal.
What was announced was the addition of mesh networking support, bringing a new user-friendly method of connecting IoT devices together to the market. It provides the ability for a group of Bluetooth IoT devices to create a network that can cover a large area.
This addition of mesh networking support to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) marks an important evolution in the growth of IoT networks – particularly by supporting a large number of sensor and control devices in locations such as the home, office and factory.
BLE provides low-power IoT connectivity, but up until now it was limited to point-to-point using traditional style Bluetooth (for example, the link between a healthcare tracker and a mobile phone) or 1: many using Bluetooth beacons – for example, using a Bluetooth beacon to provide generic information to any Bluetooth device in an area).
The addition of mesh introduces a new method of communication; many-to-many allowing a mesh-enabled device to talk to many Bluetooth devices simultaneously. Mesh networks also extend the range of a wireless network, as communications can hop between devices. They can also improve the robustness of a network: if a signal can’t reach its destination on the first try, another device on the network can re-transmit the message to the device it’s trying to get in touch with.
This makes Bluetooth mesh very useful for the smart home, as it enables a device in one corner of the home to send a message that can reach any other part. For example, you could, should you wish, automatically switch on the kettle in the kitchen when you turn on the light in your bedroom in the morning.
While Bluetooth Mesh is an important step in making Bluetooth a major IoT communications standard, the jury is still out. Technologies such as Wi-Fi are well established and still have a role to play in IoT and in my view, the IoT market will be a mixture of both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, with 802.15.4 achieving a limited market share.
Whatever the case, Imagination Technologies’ low-power communication solutions, which encompass Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and IEEE 802.15.4 (Zigbee, Thread, 6LowPAN) are particularly well suited for mesh networking solutions. As you know, our low-power wireless portfolio of wireless IP has industry-leading low power consumption, providing best-in-class solutions for IoT sensors; enabling long lifetimes for cell-battery-powered IoT devices. The addition of mesh provides wireless sensor networks that can cover a whole house, a whole office or even a whole stadium, with even better battery life.
With advances such as Bluetooth mesh and low-power Wi-Fi becoming established, we could finally be moving towards making the smart home dream finally becomes a reality for many.