Bluetooth 5 spec goes live with key feature updates, including better interoperability

Bluetooth 5 (Bluetooth SIG)
Features of Bluetooth 5 include four times range, two times speed and eight times broadcast message capacity. Image: Bluetooth SIG

The arrival of Bluetooth 5 brings a slew of key updates—such as longer range, faster speed and larger broadcast message capacity—but it also brings better interoperability and coexistence with other technologies, namely LTE.

According to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), which officially adopted Bluetooth 5 as the latest version of the Bluetooth core specification this week, key feature updates include four times range, two times speed and eight times broadcast message capacity.

As for interoperability, that’s kind of a “motherhood and apple pie” feature, but it takes Bluetooth’s existing coexistence capabilities with Wi-Fi a step further, according to Steve Hegenderfer, director of Developer Programs at the Bluetooth SIG.

“If you take a look at Bluetooth technology today, we have a couple things in our specification that help us coexist with Wi-Fi technologies, for instance,” he told FierceWirelessTech. “We do something called channel hopping and we actually avoid channels that Wi-Fi uses … We’re good stewards of the bandwidth.”

With a feature called Slot Availability Mask (SAM), “we’re doing the same thing with LTE,” he said. Basically, it’s determining that if an LTE radio is on and it’s transmitting data, then “stay away from a particular channel that is next to the LTE channel,” he said. “It’s just one of those things to help promote coexistence so that we’re trying to avoid any type of packet loss between two different radios.”

Hegenderfer said he doesn’t think the coexistence feature was triggered by anything else going on in the broader wireless space, such as the coexistence test plan that the Wi-Fi Alliance drew up in response to LTE-Unlicensed being introduced into unlicensed spectrum and the need for LTE to play nice with Wi-Fi.

“We are very serious about coexistence with other technologies, and when you think about the Internet of Things, there isn’t going to be one thing that rules the world,” he said. “Bluetooth is one of several so we want to do our part to be good neighbors with other technologies that are out there today and … we will constantly build and evolve our spec to make sure that coexistence and interoperability are key features of what we put out there.”

A lot of these latest key features can be tied to the introduction several years ago of Bluetooth Low Energy, which is driving a lot of growth. Bluetooth SIG members saw the tremendous growth in IoT and laid out what they wanted to see included in the spec in order to drive their road map. Consumers can expect to see products built with Bluetooth 5 within two to six months of the release.  

“This won’t be the end of it,” Hegenderfer promised. “We’ll continue to evolve and we’ll continue to grow as the market evolves and the market grows.” One of the things on the horizon is mesh technology, which will extend the range of devices and open a whole other array of opportunities for the technology.