What is Bluetooth Low Energy?
Bluetooth Low Energy is pretty much what it says on the tin. It is a new Bluetooth protocol that is built on the standard Bluetooth protocol but uses incredibly small amounts of electrical energy; so little in fact that a device will be able to operate for a full year using only one tiny button cell.
How long has it been around?
Although the very first of these chips to be manufactured appeared in April 2009, the concept has been around for a couple of years and it has been called different things. When the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) first came up with the concept it was called Wibree. Later it was renamed as Ultra Low Power (ULP) Bluetooth Technology, and it acquired its current name in 2009.
How will it be used?
Bluetooth Low Energy is the next evolution of Bluetooth and it is designed to transfer data between two devices extremely efficiently and using only a minimal amount of electrical energy. How this will work is best explained by an example.
Imagine that you are wearing a sportswatch that monitors your heart rate and your blood pressure continually whilst you are out on a training run. Without you taking any action, your sportswatch will be able to transfer this data to your phone using Bluetooth Low Energy, and your phone will be able to transmit this data over the internet directly to your website so that you can analyse it later or so that your coach to can examine it in real time.
This is just one example and naturally there are a great many other potential applications. We will outline some more later in this article and we will describe them in depth in future articles.
Evolutionary or Revolutionary – which one is it?
So far we have referred to this new technology as revolutionary and evolutionary. This is not an error or an attempt to confuse our readers. In fact the technology is both. It is evolutionary in that it builds on conventional Bluetooth technology and extends the design experience that has been gained already, and it is revolutionary in that the new Bluetooth Low Energy protocol has been designed from scratch or, as the engineers like to say, from the bottom up. It is also revolutionary in what it will enable Bluetooth to achieve in terms of new applications and devices.
How much will it cost?
Developing this new technology over the last couple of years has not been cheap. In fact a huge amount of design work has been carried out between the initial concept and the first silicon chips, and consequently the manufacturers intend to recoup this expenditure from selling devices.
On the other hand, one of the beauties of Bluetooth Low Energy is that it is very cheap. In devices such as mobile phones, Bluetooth low energy will sit alongside conventional Bluetooth (dual mode devices); in fact they will use just a single chip and its cost will be no more than in conventional Bluetooth. Naturally in devices that just use Bluetooth Low Energy the chips will have a net cost, but this will be very low.
What new gadgets will use Bluetooth Low Energy?
We have already given one example of how data collected from ble module a sportswatch may be transmitted directly to the internet via your mobile phone. Bluetooth low energy may be used in many other sports applications such as smart training shoes, sensors on a bicycle or a canoe, even in a bat, racket or golf club. Whatever sport you might be involved in, Bluetooth Low Energy will allow you to monitor your performance in real time and transmit it directly over the internet.
Other gadgets that are related to the above are in the field of healthcare. For instance someone with diabetes could use Bluetooth Low Energy gadgets to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels and the data could be transmitted directly to that person’s doctor or physician; heart data could be monitored for any anomalies; the health of elderly people could be monitored remotely.
Of course there are many other applications not involving health and fitness. For instance it will be used in remote control, in household appliances and in entertainment systems. What is certain is that hundreds or even thousands of new applications will emerge over the next few years.
How will it change my life?
It is inevitable that the low cost low energy connectivity offered by Bluetooth Low Energy will be life changing. With conventional Bluetooth your Personal Area Network (PAN) is restricted to a handful of devices such as your mobile phone, your laptop and computer, your MP3 player, a Bluetooth Headset, Bluetooth Headphones, your GPS and possibly your car. With Bluetooth Low Energy your PAN will be extended massively to include wearable gadgets, accessories, white goods in your home, lights and curtains, sensors and intruder alarms, remote controls for all your entertainment systems and all the other functions that we have mentioned; the possibilities are huge and limited only by your imagination.
What is the timeline?
As we have said, the first chips have been made by semiconductor companies and are being evaluated by gadget manufacturers. This exercise will take several months to complete and there might be some further design iterations before everything is finalised, but it will not be long before the first Bluetooth Low Energy gadgets and phones appear on the market. Before too long, all new Smartphones will incorporate dual mode Bluetooth Low Energy. Industry analysts estimate that by 2014 the consumption of Bluetooth chipsets incorporating Bluetooth Low Energy will have reached two billion a year.