In the past, we could share data only with the use of cables and wires, but today’s needs rely mostly on wireless audio and data transmission. We want to wirelessly share information, stream audio to phones, laptops, headsets, headphones, and speakers and use peripherals like a mouse and keyboard. In this kind of wireless communication between devices, Bluetooth is the most popular and most used wireless transmission technology. It is a wireless technology used by all smart devices to transfer data, text files, and multimedia between different devices. Bluetooth forms a Personal Area Network (PAN) and operates in a 2.4 GHz band for communication.
But besides the so-called Classic Bluetooth (versions 1.0 to 3.0+HS), the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) introduced Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) with the 4.0 version. BLE is a low energy version of Bluetooth
Classic Bluetooth vs. BLE
It all depends on what users are trying to accomplish. Classic Bluetooth and Bluetooth LE are used for different purposes. The first one can handle a lot of data, but it costs a lot more and consumes battery life quickly. The latter is used for devices and applications that don’t need to exchange large amounts of information. It allows devices to run on battery power longer before needing a recharge and low power consumption is the most significant feature of Bluetooth Low Energy technology. It works within the same frequency band as Classic Bluetooth, but it is in sleep mode most of the time. It only wakes up to initiate a connection, which lasts for a few seconds and then when used. A BLE wireless technology chip can transmit data at 2 Mbps with a range of a few meters, using about one-tenth of the power that a Classic Bluetooth chip would use to transmit the same amount of data within the same Bluetooth range.
If you own an older device with Classic Bluetooth technology, it is advised to keep it off when not in use to prevent battery drainage (with Classic Bluetooth, power consumption depends on the specific use) and protect from Bluetooth cyber-attacks. The noticeable impact on battery life between Classic Bluetooth and BLE is when you are actively using the Bluetooth connection. But from the start, Bluetooth was designed to minimize battery usage and has gotten better at it since the release of BLE technology.
New Bluetooth Features and Standards
The latest SoC (system-on-chip) solution in Bluetooth 5.2 will deliver a market-leading combination of energy efficiency, wireless performance, software tools, stacks, and security features to meet the market demand for more efficient battery-powered, smart, and IoT products. Some of the features that will benefit owners of devices with Bluetooth 5.2 include:
- Bluetooth LE Audio
Announced at CES 2020 in January, Bluetooth LE Audio is the next generation of Bluetooth audio and a new Bluetooth standard for audio transmission that is separate from Bluetooth 5.0 and 5.1. Besides lower energy consumption, the LC3 audio codec (Low Complexity Communications Codec) promises improvements in audio quality. The features of LE Audio include future integration with hearing aid devices, the ability to broadcast audio to multiple devices, and the Multi-Stream Audio feature that enables multiple audio streams to multiple devices at once. LE audio brings benefits to people with hearing loss because it carries much potential to transform the hearing aid experience, enabling Bluetooth hearing aids to connect to smartphones and TVs.
With Bluetooth 5.0, the Bluetooth SIG introduced Dual Audio, a feature that allows people to play audio on two connected devices (e.g., two Bluetooth speakers or wireless headphones) at the same time.
- Audio sharing
The audio sharing features are some of the most exciting features of LE Audio. With a compatible Bluetooth-enabled audio device (e.g., compatible Bluetooth headphones, smartphones, gaming consoles, etc.), several people can listen to the same audio source. A feature in newer Bluetooth headphones called multipoint allows them to be connected to two source devices simultaneously. However, one source device connected to multiple peripherals (the reverse) still isn’t possible with Bluetooth 5.0. A shared Bluetooth stream can be made public (anyone in range of the source device and with an LE Audio-compatible set of headphones can connect) or private so only those invited can connect and listen.
For example, publicly shared streams could be used in movie theaters and museums as a secondary source of the movie or guide’s audio in other languages. Private shared streams are great for a bus ride with your friend, listening to the same audio stream (like a podcast).
- Direction finding
The 5.1 version offers its users two methods of direction finding – Angle of Arrival (AoA) and Angle of Departure (AoD). The feature ensures that it can detect the direction from where the Bluetooth signal is coming. To be able to use the feature, both AoA and AoD devices need alignment of multiple antennas. The Direction Finding feature has brought new opportunities, especially for developers who can now develop Bluetooth-based positioning systems (RTLS and IPS). Right now, this technology is being designed in conjunction with the use of Beacons to help pinpoint a consumer’s location during their shopping experience. In the future, provided that the right technology pieces exist in the area (multiple antennas), if you lose your car keys, wireless earbuds, or any other device with Bluetooth 5.1, the Direction Finding feature could show you where the device is located.
- Faster device connection and increased range
Bluetooth 5.2 allows Bluetooth-enabled devices to connect and transfer data faster and with minimum data distortion, thanks to the better GATT caching capability. GATT, along with other minor features, brings a great deal of power savings. Compared to Bluetooth 4.2, the transfer speeds of Bluetooth 5.0/5.1/5.2 are doubled (up to 2 Mbps), while the range of communication has jumped from 60 to 240 meters). Devices can, technically, choose between a longer range and more speed. For example, devices that send tiny amounts of data or can send data slowly (e.g., smart home devices or Bluetooth beacons), but want to communicate at greater distances, would benefit from that. On the other hand, wireless headphones don’t need greater range and can use the increased speed and data transfer to stream high-bitrate audio.
- Improved GATT caching
Generic Attribute Profile (GATT) caching helps in the connection process between two Bluetooth-enabled devices. The connection begins when the Bluetooth runs and checks the GATT service of the receiver device, what it can support, and its characteristics. The GATT caching has been significantly improved in Bluetooth 5.1 and 5.2 (compared to version 5.0), and it allows devices to skip the discovery process and directly create a connection.
- Improved security
Most people think hackers won’t gain access to their devices via Bluetooth connection, but there have been cases of hackers leveraging Bluetooth vulnerabilities in recent years. In 2017, we witnessed the BlueBorne attack, and in 2019 there was the KNOB (Key Negotiation of Bluetooth) attack. Apps like Where is the Blue can help you control your device’s connection behavior (connecting automatically only to paired devices) and blocking foreign devices. Also, it helps monitor your device information, locate lost devices, prevent Bluetooth attacks, and detect card skimmers.
Bluetooth Low Energy beacons are small, button-like radio transmitters that communicate via BLE. Beacons can be mounted strategically throughout locations to broadcast BLE signals in a specified range (the range depends on the hardware characteristics and capability). A beacon device can transmit a signal up to 80 meters, on average, to trigger a specific action.
Some of the use cases of BLE beacons include:
- Asset tracking
- Proximity marketing
- Indoor navigation
- Retargeting ads
- Hyperlocal check-in
How do beacons work? They send out an ID number 10 times every second (using BLE channels), and a nearby Bluetooth-enabled device picks an ID number. When an app recognizes the ID number, it links it to a predetermined action, such as receiving a piece of content to display it on the phone or prompting to download an app.
- RuuviTag season beacon – Developed by a Finnish startup (Ruuvi Innovations), RuuviTag is an open-sourced Bluetooth 5 sensor beacon. Its battery life is up to 10 years, and the beacon has a maximum range of over 1 km. RuuviTag can act as a standard iBeacon or Eddystone proximity beacon, with the potential to provide so much more. It can measure acceleration, air pressure, humidity, and temperature, so it can be used as a superior remote weather station. The readings can be downloaded to a smartphone without the need to install any app. The opportunities are limitless because everything is fully open-sourced.
When Will You Get It?
You can already find many devices that support Bluetooth 5 versions, but to be able to reap all the benefits, you will also need peripherals that support Bluetooth 5.0. Many manufacturers have been releasing Bluetooth 5 devices since 2018. You can still use your Bluetooth 4.2 device (for example) because Bluetooth is backward-compatible technology. However, you won’t be able to benefit from the increased speed and range. Bluetooth 5.2 and LE Audio are the new industry standards, so all the latest Bluetooth-enabled devices will have tons of new features and conveniences.