Has the IoT given Bluetooth technology the boost it needs?

By Jonathan Hassell

| Retail

One of the main underpinnings of the IoT is Bluetooth technology, a fundamental protocol that enables short-range communications between devices without using a lot of battery power or other resources. With the drive to make all devices become smart — from refrigerators to coffee makers to streetlights and roadway lane markings — there is a huge need for ways for unconnected devices to find their way to the outside connected world so their data and log files can be scooped up into huge data lakes and big data-style analysis tools.

You might know Bluetooth as a consumer from wireless headphones — most earbuds, in-ear devices and over-the-ear headphones without wires use Bluetooth to pair with an audio source and stream music at a high level of quality. However, Bluetooth is much more than just a consumer technology. It’s widely used in many applications, both at home and in the workplace. In fact, the average number of Bluetooth-compatible devices each mobile user owns has grown from 2.3 devices in 2012 to 3.5 in 2016, a 52 percent increase, according to the Bluetooth blog.


There are new Bluetooth protocol enhancements entering the market, such as Bluetooth Low Power — sometimes called Bluetooth Smart — that are perfect for sensor devices placed in locations with abundant solar energy or places where direct access to change-out or charged batteries would be difficult or prohibitively expensive.

This enhancement does not generally reduce the range of communications between Bluetooth devices, which is usually affected by one’s geography and environmental obstacles to radio transmissions. However, it’s more suitable for smaller chunks of data, such as text or log files, rather than audio streaming or large file transfers. The data rate is about 1 megabit per second — slower than 3G cell service, to give some perspective and context. As it happens, devices with Bluetooth Smart and Smart Ready capabilities are expected to reach 5 billion shipments by 2021, according to ABI Research.

Key to Bluetooth technology’s superiority in IoT applications is the ability to connect directly to the internet over IP using a feature called 6LoWPAN connectivity. This lets Bluetooth edge devices — the same sensors, monitors and low-power devices that make ordinary devices “smart” — communicate on the internet using the same IP technology as any other device, eliminating a necessary transmission and management layer.

Bluetooth is much more than just earbuds and audio files. It’s the key to a future where devices are always connected, no matter how small they are or where they’re located.