Bluetooth Goes Mesh

Last week, the Bluetooth SIG announced on Tuesday the formation of the mesh working group, ending the long speculation about when the standards body would take on the technology.

It was good timing for me since I was scheduled to head out to Kirkland the following day to meet with a few of the SIG's key execs in Mark Driscoll, the Executive Director of the SIG, Steve Hegenderfer, Director of Developer Programs, and Errett Kroeter, Senior Director of Marketing for the SIG. I knew with this group in the room, I could fire away with questions about mesh and the future of Bluetooth.

I wrote a piece for Forbes about Bluetooth Mesh, which could be found here, but the gist of the piece can be summed with the following few paragraphs:

"As Bluetooth Smart has injected new life into Bluetooth, many have began to see the technology, with its low power and pervasiveness, as one that could be one of the – if not the – dominant radio interface for the Internet of Things. However, there was a problem with this vision: the technology was still limited in range relative to others like Wi-Fi and didn’t have the mesh networking capabilities (which essentially extends range of a network by making every radio a range extender) like Zigbee and Z-Wave.

Soon the industry began to call for mesh networking within the Bluetooth spec. While companies like CSR (acquired recently by Qualcomm) created their own proprietary mesh technology, many believe the broader industry would only embrace Bluetooth mesh once it was part of the specification.

And so the same group that saw an opportunity to give new life to Bluetooth with Bluetooth Smart announced this week they had created the Bluetooth Mesh working group. The goal of the Bluetooth SIG is to make mesh networking an extension of Bluetooth Smart by 2016."

Most of my Forbes pieces are aimed for a business/tech generalist audience, but for you super smart & savvy Smart Home Weekly readers, here’s a little more in-depth and inside baseball stuff from my sit-down with the SIG:

  • The demand for a mesh spec has been enormous, as indicated by the working group’s size at the outset (80 companies).
  • Overall, the two areas generating excitement right now within Bluetooth are mesh and beacons, and the combination of those two together are seen as opening up entirely new use-cases in a number of areas such as first-responders, aging in place, automotive/driverless cars and so on. 
  • the Pro Tem head of the mesh working group is CSR, one of the companies who has been selling proprietary mesh silicon. However, the SIG representatives were careful to point out that the final smart mesh spec from the SIG will be based on contributions from multiple contributors, One possible other key contributor will be Seed Labs, which also has a proprietary mesh solution (see this article here).
  • The SIG is also considering other important advancements in the standard, including range. They expect that at some point increased range beyond the specified (but often exceed in real-world implementations) 32 feet will be incorporated into the core spec.
  • Some of the new applications we discussed enabled by Bluetooth going forward include first-responder and automotive. With first-responders, the ability of mesh to create instant, scalable and fault tolerant network that can work even in the absence of WAN/LTE connectivity. Automotive is already a very active vertical for Bluetooth with most new models putting BT into the head console, but the SIG envisions potential scenarios where Bluetooth in smart car/smart city networks that can enable crash-avoidance and assisted car/driverless car scenarios. 
  • The SIG hopes to finalize the mesh extension to the spec by late 2016, but they believe there will be silicon and solutions shipping before the spec is finalize that will be compliant with the spec through a field software upgrade (like we’ve seen in the past with 802.11x standard releases).

The Takeaway

With the Bluetooth SIG releasing an official spec, I expect the Bluetooth will increasingly become a key requirement for most smart home hub solutions going forward. The sheer pervasiveness of Bluetooth in mobile devices combined with the technology’s power profile compared to Wi-Fi and, now with mesh, makes the technology an even stronger candidate for IoT and smart home products going forward. This doesn’t even factor the the technology’s fairly scalable approach to software in GATT, which only makes the Bluetooth story more compelling.


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