The Meteoric Rise of Bluetooth® Mesh Networks
These days, consumers don’t want to be tied down. The global headphone market is estimated to be worth about $13bn annually, according to Futuresource Consulting, and a major force driving that growth is wireless technology. Whether in-ear buds or headphones that wrap the ear, consumers are indicating they’re ready to cut the cord. And it’s not just wireless headphones. Wireless connectivity is creating opportunities far beyond the reach of what any wired connection could ever do. Wireless connection provides greater range and can be significantly cheaper than a wire connection.
As the technology advances, it is also allowing more devices to connect to a network or to one another. Bluetooth® 5.0 was officially deployed in 2016 with a focus on enhancing the range, speed and data capacity. It also had another important element, which was an emphasis on IoT connectivity, and this concentration on IoT tech allows for the connection to the cloud.
Introducing the Bluetooth® Mesh Network
One major step towards a more accessible and wide-ranging wireless future is Bluetooth Mesh 1.0 network which was released in July 2017. Originally, Bluetooth was created as a wireless point-to-point connection between two devices in close proximity or in small star-networks called Scatternets. Bluetooth mesh networking now allows for multiple devices to connect to the same network and all communicate seamlessly and in real time. This development has seemingly limitless implications. Bluetooth uses a flood mesh approach where packets of information are sent to all available devices within transceiver range.
Mesh networking has two advantages, first, since a single message may travel along many routes to its destination, it dramatically increases the probability that the message arrives and second, the increased distance a message may travel by way of one Bluetooth node communicating with another.
Think of Bluetooth mesh networking like you would a chain. As long as the individual links go unbroken, the first link and last link would always be considered connected, no matter how long the chain stretches. While standard Bluetooth recently upgraded its range in the Bluetooth 5.0 update, mesh networking hypothetically allows for infinite range if the proper chain links are in place.
This development has implications for the smart home, lighting controls and much more. With current Wi-Fi capabilities, home owners can operate light switches or change the temperature on their smart phone. Without automation involved, however, these are little more than conveniences and do not make a true smart home. With a Bluetooth mesh network, there is potential for future automation. For instance, the second someone comes home and unlocks their door, the smart lock automatically tell the air conditioning to turn on and turn the entryway lights. It could know what time you’re arriving and begin preheating the oven if it’s around dinner time, all without the home-owner even having to touch their phone.
Hospitals are proving pioneers in use of Bluetooth mesh network technology. Some are using Bluetooth beacons to monitor and track equipment, for example. But helping nurses locate equipment is just the surface of Bluetooth’s capabilities. Using this tech, doctors and nurses could monitor patients from anywhere, significantly reducing the need for hospital visits. These visits are both costly and potentially dangerous due to the risk of things like contagious diseases and infection. Not only would a doctor or nurse be able to monitor patients wirelessly, but a patient’s devices at home could do things like monitor temperature through biometric sensors and automatically notify the pharmacy to deliver medicine if the patient got a fever.
On the Factory Floor
There are also clear benefits from the Bluetooth mesh network in the manufacturing sector, especially in places where a lot of machines work together. Previously, if two devices on opposite ends of a factory and needed to communicate, it would require either a wired connection or sensors that could connect to the cloud. This cloud connect requires Wi-Fi, which uses significantly more energy. Now with the mesh network, every single device in the entire factory can connect to each other via Bluetooth by repeating the signal through other devices on the way.
Bluetooth mesh networking is just one piece of the wireless future that is to come. Even then, it will surely be supplemented by advancements in technologies such as Wi-Fi and 5G. Panasonic’s easy to install modules allow for any product to seamlessly have wireless connectivity installed, paving the way for even more connected devices that can speak to and work in conjunction with one another.