Bluetooth 5 is here, and it’s no longer just about connecting headphones and speakers to your smartphone. The new version signals a shift to become a conduit for the Internet of Things, thanks to new features including extended range, faster speeds, and the ability to send more data to devices without needing a direct connection.
The new version was first announced when the Bluetooth Special Interest Group’s Mark Powell discussed plans in a public email earlier in June. Bluetooth 5 signals a shift away from the “version x.x” naming template that has been in use since the technology was introduced. Powell said the change is intended to simplify the organization’s marketing efforts, and make it clear to users that this is a “significant” update to the technology.
Bluetooth 5 will be released later this year or early 2017, and promises to quadruple the current range of approximately 10 meters and double the speed of low energy connections, all without sucking too much power. Where Bluetooth 5 will come into its own is in the home, and through the use of Bluetooth Beacons powering smart cities, stores, and public spaces.
In addition to the extra range and speed, Bluetooth 5 introduces a connectionless feature, where rather than beacons and other devices communicating with an open app or one running in the background, they can broadcast to browsers — such as Google’s Eddystone linking with Chrome. The additional broadcast capacity means more data can be sent, and the messages received more helpful and information packed.
Bluetooth has made its plans for connecting up smart homes very clear in the past, and in 2015, spoke about what it called “enabling technology” coming to Bluetooth soon. It appears Bluetooth 5 is the result. The new features make Bluetooth Beacons — the transmitters that will drive smart streets and provide information to us automatically, from inside museums to navigating around airports — far more useful and, hopefully, more reliable.
Will Bluetooth 5 support come via a firmware upgrade, or will it only be supported by hardware designed with it in mind? Previous versions have been a mixture of both, and according to the Bluetooth SIG, version 5 will most likely have specific hardware and software requirements, indicating it’ll only arrive on devices designed for it. However, it will depend on Bluetooth 5’s usage, so some features may be pushed through a software update.
We’ll know more as the release date approaches.
Updated on 06-17-2016 by Andy Boxall: Added in comment from Bluetooth regarding compatibility with existing Bluetooth hardware
Updated on 06-16-2016 by Andy Boxall: Added in news of Bluetooth 5’s official announcement