This past summer, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced a seismic new development in Bluetooth capability: Bluetooth Mesh, a new layer of software that would do away with the traditional point-to-communication method in favor of new “mesh” capabilities that would, instead, enable all of these devices and points of contact to talk with each other.
The announcement came on the heels of the growing prominence of mesh technologies in other wireless applications. Thread, a wireless protocol for smart home networking, and Zigbee, a wireless standard for short-range, low-data functions, are just a few of the next steps we’re seeing in mesh development.
But, mesh networking has, up until now, not been a one-size-fits-all solution for connecting devices. And, that’s precisely why Bluetooth Mesh is aiming to completely change the game.
Routed mesh vs. flooding mesh
There are two types of mesh networks: routed and flooding. For routed mesh, individual devices have designated conversation paths. The conversation between specific devices follows the fastest designated route between points A and B.
Flooding mesh does the opposite: Every device on a flood mesh network can send out signals en masse between all Bluetooth-connected devices in an area. Think of it like the difference between talking on the phone versus speaking through a bullhorn. The original Bluetooth mesh standard prototypes used this flood protocol, but it ultimately proved too challenging due to the deluge of conversations between devices to manage and the drain on power efficiency.
Now, Bluetooth Mesh combines the best of both worlds by delivering a “managed flood” that allows similar devices to communicate with each other in a blanket manner.
Smart homes, smart cars, smart offices
Bluetooth Mesh is casting a wider net than ever, so it’s no surprise that the possibilities for what this means in a user’s day-to-day life are wider than ever, too.
The smart home is one of the most potent use cases. Already the average house is loaded with connected, IoT devices embedded with Bluetooth chips, from smart thermostats to Nest cameras to wireless speakers. But, these are all point-to-point communications, where you only manage one connection with one device at a time. Bluetooth Mesh empowers users to bring all of these devices, and more, together with a single point of control. From their phone, users could remotely control all of the aforementioned, plus TVs, kitchen appliances, lights, garage doors or anything in the home with a Bluetooth chip, all at once.
We can see this same single-point hyper-connectivity in the workplace, too, where managers can remotely control everything from the office door locks and light fixtures to the temperature and the dishwashers. Bluetooth Mesh can bring this web of connectivity to on the road, too, where cars with embedded IoT sensors can effectively speak to each other or to surrounding infrastructure to detect everything from passing cars (so drivers can avoid potential collisions when changing lanes) to upcoming traffic lights, so as to let the driver know how much time is left on the light before it turns red or green.
The approach for developers
The new possibilities being raised by Bluetooth Mesh and its myriad of applications will undoubtedly raise the expectations of end users and manufactures alike, and deservedly so. All of which raises a crucial question: What do engineers need to know about Bluetooth Mesh in order to live up to those expectations?
For one, Bluetooth Mesh means easy replication. If mesh networks are being built off the backs of multiples of the same device, then developers will need to ensure that those devices are built to low-cost at scale, so they can be easily and affordably deployed in greater numbers. Additionally, engineers should aim to accommodate a small footprint. Mesh networks mean devices will need to be fit into a wide array of places, functions and applications, requiring these devices to be easily adaptable and built around a small design footprint.
Finally, low-power usage and high-power reliability must be priorities. Engineers need to take steps to ensure that connected devices are “always on,” in order to avoid dark spots from occurring in a mesh network.
Just scratching the surface
Bluetooth Mesh is poised to redefine what’s possible in connectivity and device-to-device communications. Homes, offices and cars are just the tip of the iceberg. Forward-thinking, innovative manufacturers are already looking ahead to how Bluetooth Mesh can scale up for deployment across factories and manufacturing sites, improving efficiency, productivity and device synchronicity.
It’s an exciting time to be in the connectivity business, one where providers and developers now have the tools they need to both dream big and make it a reality.
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