What Is Bluetooth 5? Here’s Why It Will Matter to You

Image by Viktor Hanacek

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group, or SIG, recently announced Bluetooth 5 will soon be available. It’s essentially a new specialization of the wireless protocol that will introduce some significant improvements, including faster speeds, enhanced range and more.

Mark Powell, executive director of Bluetooth SIG, says this new spec will deliver “reliable IoT connections and (mobilize) the adoption of beacons.” He further explained that beacons are designed to “decrease connection barriers,” which will allow for “a seamless IoT experience.”

What Is IoT?

Just in case you’re not familiar, IoT stands for the Internet of Things. It refers to connected devices or equipment that not only have access to the internet, but can also interface with other hardware. It can be used to create a smart home or kick start automation.

For example, the Nest smart learning thermostat can learn your habits and implement them before you get home. It does this by communicating with your smartphone, which tells it via GPS your current location. That way, when you leave work, Nest can turn down the air to meet your needs. By the time you get home, it’s already just the way you like it. This is convenient and can also help homeowners save money, because the air doesn’t have to run at all times.

Most IoT or connected devices do have access to Wi-Fi, but they can also connect to other devices via wireless Bluetooth. In fact, if you have any experience with wearables – like smartwatches – Bluetooth is the wireless signal that is most often used to sync these devices with a smartphone or computer.

Recent advances in the technology – hence the name Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) – allow for it to consume between half and 1/100th of the power of previous iterations. As a result, equipment and devices that rely on a constant Bluetooth connection can now run for years, even on a coin cell battery, as opposed to months.

What Is Bluetooth 5?

Bluetooth 5 is the latest version of this wireless protocol, which introduces several enhancements. Bluetooth 4.2 is the version that’s available now, across most devices.

Bluetooth SIG says the 5 spec will offer double the speed. This means that devices – like your wearable – will be able to sync data much faster. No more waiting around for those Bluetooth transfers to happen! Compared to BT 4.2, which is capable of transfer speeds up to 1 megabits per second, 5 can handle up to 2MBps.

It is also capable of up to four times the range, and eight times the capacity for content. Not only can it go further, it can also be used to transfer larger quantities of data. Yes, wearables are important and use Bluetooth heavily, but so do IoT devices. In fact, that’s exactly what this new spec is aimed to improve.

It essentially means there is a more reliable standard that can be used for connected home devices. If you didn’t know already, IoT and connected home devices are part of the next up-and-coming tech boon.

Another benefit is companies can combine BLE tech with Real Time Location System platforms, allowing the technology to be used for medical applications. In fact, 93 percent of health care professionals feel mobile technology can be used to improve patient experience and outcomes, namely through apps and wearables. The Bluetooth Low Energy wireless protocol is what will allow for this to happen, or more specifically, what will allow for the encrypted and secure transfer of medical data between devices?

Bluetooth 5 also includes some bug fixes of sorts, which will help eliminate interference from similar wireless technologies. In short, the new protocol will be stronger in every sense of the word.

In the past, audio streaming quality has been a large focus of the Bluetooth spec, but that does not appear to be the case here. It’s not that audio won’t be supported by Bluetooth 5, but as you can see, advances in the technology are largely tailored to the IoT industry.

When Will Bluetooth 5 Be Available?

Even though Bluetooth SIG has announced the adoption of this new spec, we likely won’t see the first devices equipped with the technology until two to six months from now. This is because – as you’d expect – it takes some time for manufacturers to start implementing it in new products and devices.

When it is finally implemented, you can expect to see better performance and power when transferring data via Bluetooth. This includes any number of devices outfitted with the technology, such as smartphones, wearables, smart home equipment and much more.

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Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a Pittsburgh-based tech writer contributing to MakeUseOf, The Gadget Flow and Smart Hustle. Follow her on Twitter to read her latest posts!