Ask the Experts: Bluetooth® 5.1 and the Future of the Smart Home

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Ask the Experts: Bluetooth® 5.1 and the Future of the Smart Home

For this month’s installment of our Ask the Experts series, the Dialog connectivity team’s Erik Peters weighs in with his thoughts on how Bluetooth low energy (BLE) and the new Bluetooth 5.1 spec will shape the future of the smart home.

 

What makes Bluetooth low energy so uniquely suited for connectivity between smart devices? Why BLE and not something else?

BLE is the leading wireless technology for short-burst data transmissions. Its power consumption and hardware costs are relatively low, compared to other radio frequency standards. So, given that power efficiency and cost-effectiveness, the question isn’t really “why BLE?” but instead, “why would you not go with BLE?” It just makes sense. It’s the ideal choice for connecting different sensors, peripherals and control devices together.

 

What does that look like in the smart home?

When we’re talking about the smart home, we’re talking about a single space where virtually every function has become a wireless sensor or wireless device: door bells, light bulbs, light switches, thermostats, wall outlets, remote controls, kitchen appliances like stoves and microwaves, TVs, speakers. Everything in the smart home is done wirelessly. In its own right, BLE is ideal for connecting these sensors with each other. But even more so because of the ubiquitous presence of Bluetooth we already see. Our phones are equipped with Bluetooth, which means they can seamlessly interact with smart home apps and devices via BLE, giving homeowners universal and easy control over every one of those devices.

 

What’s the impact on the end user?

For users and owners of smart homes and smart home devices, I envision three features of BLE that will have a major impact on their lives:

 

  1. Mesh networking. Mesh networking allows for “many-to-many” communications between Bluetooth devices; one device can relay signals across different devices in a space, which is a natural fit for a smart home where you have multiple Bluetooth-connected devices that need to be able to talk to each other. BLE not only supports mesh networking in expanding the range of Bluetooth device signals, it also helps ensure that that kind of networking can be deployed cheaply and easily, with a capacity to scale up practically infinitely.

 

  1. Data security and encryption. Concerns about data privacy in the home have risen sharply over the past couple years. And while fears about your smart speaker eavesdropping on your conversations may be overblown, end users are still going to want assurances about the integrity and security of their personal data that’s being gathered around the house. As smart home devices are collecting data on people’s day-to-day habits – from when they’re out of the house, to what they’re cooking, to their sleep patterns – the demands for data privacy protection are going to rise rapidly. BLE fulfills this demand by providing end-to-end encryption across smart home Bluetooth connections. Access control features (used with smart door locks) and secure key storage and authentication (for mobile payments) are a couple ways BLE can help bolster smart home device privacy.

 

  1. Direction-finding location services. Bluetooth 5.1 brings new location positioning solutions to BLE devices, with Angle of Arrival (AoA) and Angle of Departure (AoD). These methods tell the user when a device is near and in which direction it’s located. This is key for smart home devices that, for example, will be able to switch on the lights, set the temperature to your preferred setting and turn on any pre-programmed kitchen devices as soon as you walk through the door. Being able to detect when you’ve come home sets off a chain reaction to those other devices around the house. That kind of “follow me” location detection and positioning is possible because of AoA, AoD and Bluetooth 5.1.

 

What role can Dialog play here with BLE and the future of the smart home?

All of the Bluetooth features I described here, and their smart home applications, are already supported by Dialog’s SmartBond™ family of BLE products. The SmartBond line, and particularly the new DA1469x range, are leading the industry on low-power consumption and system costs, which are essential for making smart home Bluetooth devices viable for mainstream production. Not only do our SmartBond BLE devices meet these demands, they also provide a unique and extensive suite of security and encryption functions on-chip, to ensure we’re fulfilling users’ data integrity demands – both for today and the smart home of the future.

 

Thanks to Erik for taking the time to share these thoughts. Stay tuned for more Ask the Experts blog posts in the future. In the meantime, check out how the Dialog SmartBond DA1469x line is pushing the envelope in smart home BLE solutions – or, come see for yourself on our international SmartBond Technology Tour, already underway and coming to a city near you.