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The revolutionary opportunities of Bluetooth low energy

Posted: 18 Mar 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Bluetooth? low energy? mobile? connectivity?

From the very first version of Bluetooth seen in consumer products in the 1990s to the much anticipated version 4.0, the Bluetooth standard has been updated and optimized to ensure that OEMs and consumers enjoy maximum benefit from the most recent changes and enhancements to the technology. Bluetooth is rapidly approaching saturation point as the ultimate means of data transfer for portable devices and features in approximately 80% of all mobile handsets worldwide. Given how Bluetooth has developed into the world's most pervasive wireless connectivity technology it should come as no surprise that the focus of its development has long been on bringing wireless connectivity to the vast majority of mobile phones on the market today.

The mobile phone plays an increasingly important role across many aspects of our lives. Smartphones already support a vast array of important functions from internet browsing, access to email and social media, satellite navigation and even allow users to share location-specific information while on the move. Bluetooth further enhances the potential of mobile devices.

Bluetooth has managed to defend its position as the accepted industry standard for wireless connectivity because it is a standard; unlike competitor products, is it is both interoperable and backwards compatible with older versions of Bluetooth, which will speed the introduction of the newest Bluetooth devices coming to market.

Bluetooth low energy, a key feature of Bluetooth v4.0, is set to once again redefine how Bluetooth technology is used. Bluetooth low energy retains the ethos of 'classic' Bluetooth including its ad hoc connectivity, the robustness of its connections, and interoperability whilst introducing an innovative level of ultra low power operation, providing numerous possibilities for new types of use-cases and application areas

Crucially, Bluetooth low energy is optimized for sending small pieces of information with minimal delay (latency). The total time of sending data is less than 6ms, (compared to 100ms with classic Bluetooth). This enables an application to form a connection and send data before quickly tearing down the connection. Like classic Bluetooth, Bluetooth low energy uses fast frequency hopping to minimize interference from other technologies, making it very suitable for the home environment, where multiple devices using different protocols, such as Wi-Fi, use the same 2.4GHz spectrum in a confined space. In addition, adaptive hopping and temporal coexistence schemes enable it to be used in a compact device alongside a Wi-Fi radio. Bluetooth has had 10 years of development, unparalleled experience that the industry is now able to bring to bear on Bluetooth low energy and help it find a home in a wide range of new applications.

It is this coexistence and its ultra low power consumption which makes Bluetooth low energy the ideal technology for simple devices from remote controls to heart rate monitors that can't afford to be running out of power every day. From basic remotes with exceptionally long battery life to advanced keypad remotes for the growing market of internet connected TVs, Bluetooth low energy provides an effective solution. It also means that mobile phones, netbooks and tablets can run applications to control all of the TV and A/V equipment within the home.

To further build on this capability, if Bluetooth low energy is integrated into watches, lights, central heating thermostats, heart rate monitors, microwaves, even running shoes, as predicted by the Bluetooth SIG, then people will be able to coordinate all of these applications through a single 'remote control'their mobile phone. For most people, a mobile phone is almost always within arm's reach, if you want to control the lights and heating you'll reach for your mobile.

Bluetooth low energy

Bluetooth low energy comes in two flavors: dual-mode and single mode. Dual mode is a device where Bluetooth low energy sits alongside classic Bluetooth (by classic Bluetooth we mean here the traditional 1Mbps or v2.0 Enhanced Data Rate 3Mbps variants of Bluetooth). A mobile phone is an obvious home for a dual-mode device, since the mobile phone user needs access to streaming music from their mobile phone to stereo Bluetooth headset. But the inclusion of Bluetooth low energy functionality, in a product such as the CSR8000 connectivity platform, will boost the potential for the mobile phone to take on a role of control and communicating with a huge new range of Bluetooth low energy devices. And that's where single-mode comes in. Single-mode devices such as CSR ?Energy range of single-mode Bluetooth low energy products are very small, and extremely low power, to enable the creation of a new market for tiny, cost-effective and power-efficient wireless consumer products.

Due to its relatively simple architecture, devices with built-in single-mode Bluetooth low energy can be made equal to the size of the coin cells that power them, and only a few millimeters thicker. Bluetooth low energy allows manufacturers to design tiny devices with low production costs. And as Bluetooth low energy's overall architecture shares much of classic Bluetooth technology, adding-in Bluetooth low energy to a Bluetooth chip to create a dual-mode device involves a minimal cost-add.

Depending on the application, Bluetooth low energy can be 20 to 100 times more power-efficient than classic Bluetooth and that has significant implications in terms of opening up new applications to wireless connectivity. Therefore, many applications featuring Bluetooth low energy can run off a small coin cell battery for up to ten years, meaning that the battery of a device may essentially last for the entire life of the product it powers. Instead of talking about 'battery-life' we will find ourselves talking about 'batteries for life' and CSR belives that the introduction of Bluetooth low energy to consumer electronics will signal the 'death' of the battery as we know it.

Unlike other similar technologies such as Zigbee, Bluetooth low energy can build on the existing billions of Bluetooth devices already in the market. Bluetooth low energy is being added to existing Bluetooth silicon for negligible cost and with no need for redesign. Compared to alternative technologies this is a massive advantage.

It's important to state that OEMs are already very familiar with designing products incorporating Bluetooth technology and therefore see great potential for Bluetooth low energy single-mode chips, which were first released to the mass market in October 2010. We have already seen innovative uses for Bluetooth which will be significantly enhanced by the introduction of Bluetooth low energy. So, what sort of new applications is Bluetooth low energy going to drive given it's game-changing potential?

Within the area of automotive, Bluetooth low energy can be featured in applications relating to the security of the car, for instance by including it into key-fob and other 'secure entry' contactless devices for identifying the driver, opening the car, disabling security systems and even starting the car. Key fob systems already exist, of course, but they maintain nothing like the energy efficiency of Bluetooth low energy nor the potential for connection to other devices such as multimedia systems. Thanks to the ultra-low power consumption of Bluetooth low energy, key fob and handset makers could set Bluetooth low energy to 'always on', allowing all manner of automotive use-cases to be realized.

Furthermore, manufacturers can aim to integrate pressure sensors into, for instance, tires, to feature applications in automotive diagnostics. Tire pressure sensors using Bluetooth low energy could be mounted within the tire or wheel, the battery potentially lasting the lifetime of the car (certainly longer than the tire!), and communicate wirelessly to warn the driver of the need to change tires. Applications such as this mean that consumers are able to enjoy the most convenient and yet safest method of critical vehicle status updates.

Another area in which Bluetooth low energy provides the opportunity for OEMs to re-think their use cases and which opens up a new range of applications for consumers, is within the field of health-and-wellbeing. Bluetooth low energy can be considered as the 'missing link' between small sensors and mobile devices, extending Personal Area Networks (PANs) to include Bluetooth enabled devices. Data can then be transferred to the Internet by asking web-connected products such as a mobile phone to forward the data. Many applications can be linked to mobile phones and as Bluetooth is an interoperable standard, the information can be received to every mobile device that features Bluetooth.

Bluetooth application

One example application of this would be to send data from a single-mode sensor measuring a weight to a mobile phone application. The user then could select from a range of applications enabling the weighing-scale to connect to fitness training, weight management, or even chronic condition monitoring services provided on the Internet, uploading data to GoogleHealth or your NHS records. In fact, the possible fitness and health applications are endless. OEMs are already talking about developing pedometers, heart rate monitors, cycle computers and many more applications making use of Bluetooth low energy. And this sector looks to grow significantly as analysts at IMS project that by 2014 over 150 million wireless body sensors, will be bought every year for sports and fitness uses alone.

Bluetooth low energy could be put into heart monitors, trainers, weighing scales and watches and used to synchronize and upload data to your phone or laptop. It could allow your phone to act as the remote control for your Bluetooth low energy-enabled TV or central heating, and is applicable to any number of other use cases.

So what will Bluetooth low energy mean for the future of consumer electronics? Not only will Bluetooth low energy add to existing use cases for Bluetooth, it also opens up new possibilities in other industries. Employing Bluetooth low energy within industrial control applications such as smart meters means costs can potentially be dramatically cut using the wireless and remote collection of data from households or businesses. It is easy to see that the possibilities are limited only by the imagination of OEMs, manufacturers and consumers.

Without the restriction of limited battery life, manufacturers can design devices with pre-integrated batteries, which will never need charging across the life of a product. From a pair of trainers that track performance and vital statistics, to a meteorologist tracking a breaking storm; the possibilities are endless.

The question is no longer 'can' our devices connect, it's 'what do we want them to say to one another?'. Bluetooth low energy alleviates a number of design restrictions imposed by limited battery life and cost and in the future consumers will be able to choose from an even wider range of affordable, durable and innovative new wirelessly enabled products as they immerse themselves in an increasingly connected world empowered by Bluetooth low energy.

- Raj Gawera
??VP of marketing, CSR handset business unit

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