Earlier this month, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), the organization that oversees the development of new specifications and standards for Bluetooth®, unveiled the latest innovative networking topology. Called Bluetooth Mesh, this new standard features an entire second layer of software that, in a nutshell, abandons the point-to-point communication that Bluetooth connected devices historically utilize for mesh capabilities that enable all points to talk to each other.
Many people may be surprised to learn that this isn’t how the Bluetooth standard has performed all along, or at least in the recent past. That’s because mesh networks are increasingly common for all kinds of wireless topologies, including Thread, the newest wireless protocol for smart home networks, and ZigBee, a popular wireless standard for short-range low data applications. But creating a mesh network is hardly a one-size-fits-all undertaking.
There are generally two types of mesh networks: Routed mesh and a flooding mesh.
For the former, individual devices have designated paths of conversation. Although almost all Bluetooth connected devices within proximity are capable of communicating, the conversation between specific entities follows the fastest designated route from device to device rather than blanketing all connected fixtures to reach the desired end point. Flooding mesh does a bit of the opposite, and every device on a flood mesh network can basically send signals en-masse between connected fixtures as if using a bullhorn.
Original prototypes for the Bluetooth mesh standard modeled the flood protocol, but it proved challenging on two fronts. The first challenge was a deluge of devices having muddled, convoluted conversations with each other, and the second being a drain on power efficiency – something the Bluetooth SIG prides itself on avoiding.
The long-gestating Bluetooth Mesh combines both mesh network models to deliver a managed flood, which essentially allows similar devices – think all of the Bluetooth-enabled lighting in a home – to communicate with each other in a blanket manner, but not every Bluetooth-enabled device within proximity. Because this new specification has been gestating for so long, it shouldn’t take long for Bluetooth Mesh to proliferate, especially in the realm of the IoT.
For the initial, most immediate use cases, Bluetooth Mesh will likely help improve efficiency and synchronicity of similar devices in the modern connected home, namely IoT-enabled lighting fixtures and kitchen appliances, for starters. But the implications for mesh will likely be much more far-reaching, including helping innovate and improve connectivity in the factory of the future and helping to push the agenda of Industry 4.0 forward.
Our ICs and SoCs already help bring the latest Bluetooth low energy technology into the consumer realm, enabling the efficient connectivity between the devices that are streamlining our world on a daily basis. We’ll continue to help lead the charge on innovation in this space as the latest developments unfold – stay tuned!