We all recognize the name Bluetooth. It’s synonymous with wireless technology, and we take for granted how much easier it makes our lives. From smartphones to headphones and beyond, we rely on Bluetooth to free us from the legacy of wired technology.
Today, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) has become the standard for wireless connectivity between electronic devices. Initially, it was utilized for one-to-one device connections, such as wireless headphones or connecting to your car's hands-free system. The next evolution was one-to-many connections and the proliferation of tiny BLE sensors called beacons. This week The Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced many-to-many device communication, also known as "Mesh Networking."
This exciting development is going to see Bluetooth become an even more powerful technology in the development of smart building, sensor network, and asset tracking solutions.
How Mesh works:
There are two key concepts that you need to know to understand how Bluetooth Mesh networks operate:
1) Peer-to-peer: All devices have the ability to communicate directly with one another. There is no need for a centralized hub or receiver to communicate with the beacon devices (star-based network topology) that were required in the past.
2) Multipath: Messages are sent through all nearby connected devices using a managed flood message relay architecture. This means that there is no single point of failure, and should one device die - messages will still be received through alternative paths.
Each time you add a device to the mesh network, you are inherently extending its range. The Bluetooth Mesh architecture has been designed to support up to 32,000 connected devices whilst maintaining government grade security and BLE performance standards.
What are the benefits?
Smart buildings and sensor networks
The most obvious benefit that Bluetooth Mesh provides is the support for smart buildings and facilities. By allowing devices to connect directly with each other without the need for a nearby hub, you can create a network of thousands of sensors and smart devices that can communicate with each other.
A simple example of this is smart lighting. BLE sensors in the light fixtures can detect when a person is nearby and automatically switch on, simultaneously communicating with all nearby light fixtures to also switch on depending on their proximity.
Remote management of Beacons and other Bluetooth devices
In many cases, the setup and management of BLE Beacons and other connected devices are costly and time-consuming. You can either connect with them directly and update their settings via a Bluetooth enabled device (e.g. smartphone), or manage their settings via a nearby connected hub. To manage a large network of beacons requires multiple connected devices or hubs.
Bluetooth Mesh now allows the remote management of thousands of connected devices via a single connected hub or mobile device, thus allowing you to remotely manage device configuration and monitor the health of the device (e.g. beacon battery levels) from anywhere.
The use case that we are most excited about is the opportunity to use Bluetooth Mesh for asset tracking. Up until now, there have been a number of ways that you can track assets using BLE (read article here), however, they all required the use of fixed BLE receivers or mobile devices. The addition of Mesh networks will allow us to track the location of a Bluetooth tag via the connected mesh network, and broadcast this information back to a central hub.
Take the smart lighting example above - all of these light fixtures are now able to act as receivers and broadcast a tagged asset's location back to the cloud in real-time. This provides significant advantages and cost savings in environments such as mines, hospitals or temporary outdoor events, where fixed connected receivers are difficult to deploy.
Watch the video below to learn more about Bluetooth Mesh: