The Evolution of Bluetooth: From Entertainment To Smart Buildings

For most of us urbane mobile users, Bluetooth is a reminder of the “good old days” of the Internet through which we would exchange MP3 files and pictures. Today, it is commonly used in fitness bands, cars and even headsets. But the utility of this piece of technology goes much further. Experts are reckoning the application of Bluetooth in smart buildings. Although the adoption is not large scale just yet, it is on the rise.

At the recently held IoT India Expo in New Delhi, there was a session held on the rising significance of Bluetooth mesh as a basis for connectivity in smart buildings. This is a networking structure that uses low-energy networking technology to interact and exchange information. A mesh network is where every single node is connected, allowing the effortless relay of data. While its largely used in industrial automation, it is becoming a reliable alternative for smart buildings as well.

More specifically, the current successes are being seen using building lighting networks as the foundation for Bluetooth connectivity.

Let’s see how this works with LED lights. These lights are an energy efficient alternative, but with the proliferation of IoT, they are now embedded with IoT sensors as well. Buildings today are equipped with Ethernet cabling, which makes it easier to connect sensor-embedded LED lights. With an interconnected lighting system using SIG-qualified Bluetooth mesh, LED lights can be easily lit up without having to reorient a building’s wiring. Since mesh networking involves several nodes, each one acts like a gateway for the original net connection, constantly communicating with one another and amplifying the signal. Unlike range extenders that will likely slow down Internet speeds, mesh networks amplify speed and ensure the entire building is powering on at optimal speeds at all times.

The benefits of this efficient system of mesh networking are many. Bluetooth mesh networks can provide a wide range of coverage, interoperability, device monitoring & control, low energy consumption and most importantly, compatibility with mobiles, tablets, PCs and laptops.

For instance, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam recently replaced their halogen lighting systems with Bluetooth-enabled LED modules. Now, the museum’s lighting is controlled by Bluetooth switches. In addition, the museum also added Xicato sensors which use Bluetooth technology to broadcast data including occupancy, lux levels, temperature and humidity levels – parameters whose management is critical to retain the quality of the priceless works of art.

US-based retailer Target, during the revamp of its stores, is installing Bluetooth beacons in its new LED light fixtures to enable location and navigation. Once completed, this will be one of the largest deployments for a lighting-based indoor positioning system.

Scalability of Bluetooth Mesh

At the IoT Tech Expo in Amsterdam, Bluetooth SIG Technical Program Manager Martin Woolley spoke about the introduction of Bluetooth Mesh in 2017 and how it is a wise choice for smart building deployments. As of 2018, there were 10 million Bluetooth devices being shipped everyday and 34,000 companies support the use of the technology. A Bluetooth Mesh can support up to 32,767 nodes per network, sending hundreds of multicast messages per second. This range of scale can be achieved through multiple techniques including multi-hop messaging – where messages can “hop” across the network to the furthermost edges. According to Woolley, these devices can communicate with one another even when out of radio range.

Security Concerns

With the exponential proliferation of IoT comes the concerns regarding security. Reports of malware attacks and cybersecurity lapses in businesses make headlines every day. The industry is cognizant of these concerns, and Bluetooth Mesh offers a reliable solution. Bluetooth products essentially must support same security features, and a single compromised device cannot debilitate an entire network. Moreover, only members of the same network can communicate, mitigating the chances of a rogue device to connect.

So far, the lighting industry has seen the success of applying Bluetooth Mesh to lights. According to ABI Research, annual commercial smart lighting equipment shipments are expected to increase fivefold by 2022. 40% of all connected end points will be smart lighting based by 2021. Already, industries like retail, healthcare and travel are testing this technology in pockets, and furthering the use of Bluetooth Mesh for smart buildings.

With security, safety, connectivity and reliability being paramount to the success of a technology like Bluetooth Mesh, industry experts are optimistic that it will play a transformative role in the smart buildings industry in the near future.


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