Get ready for Bluetooth 5 because the Bluetooth Special Interest Group officially ratified the specification for the wireless protocol this week. Bluetooth 5 promises twice the speed and four times the range compared to the current Bluetooth standard, and will start showing up in devices soon.
Bluetooth is the system that lets wireless keyboards and mice talk to our computers, and connects wireless speakers to our iPhones, iPads, and Macs. It’s a lot like USB, but without physical wires tethering devices together.
The new specification also handles larger broadcast message capacity, and is much more robust for communicating in areas congested with wireless signals. Bluetooth SIG Executive Director Mark Powell said,
This means whole-home and building coverage, as well as new use cases for outdoor, industrial, and commercial applications will be a reality. With the launch of Bluetooth 5, we continue to evolve to meet the needs of IoT developers and consumers while staying true to what Bluetooth is at its core: the global wireless standard for simple, secure, connectivity.
Bluetooth 5’s more robust communication system will make it easier to use wireless smarthome devices in larger areas than today’s standard supports, and its low power requirements mean device batteries will last longer before recharging or replacing. It’s also backwards compatible so the Bluetooth devices we have today will still work.
It’s All About Smart Devices
The massive range increase and lower power requirements over Bluetooth 4.2 are good news for Internet of Things, or IoT, device makers. The sensors, switches, and other smarthome devices they’re making can communicate over longer distances, which is what the Bluetooth SIG had in mind for the new specification.
Wireless smarthome devices can be positioned much farther away from their communication hub making it easier to blanket larger homes, offices, and warehouse spaces with sensors. You can expect to see products taking advantage of that soon. Bluetooth 5 also gives device makers better security control, which will be critical as more IoT products find their way into our homes and offices.
Bluetooth 5 for Mobile Devices
Not everyone needs to throw a Bluetooth signal across a warehouse, so Bluetooth 5 takes that into account, too. Device makers can adjust device signal range, which will be perfect for wireless earphones and speakers connecting to our iPhones and Apple Watches.
That said, we could see speakers and earphones designed to work even when they’re farther away from out smartphones and smartwatches.
When Can I get Bluetooth 5?
Now that the Bluetooth 5 specification has been officially released companies can start releasing compatible products. The Bluetooth SIG says we can expect to see products roll out within the next two to six months, but unless you’re using other Bluetooth-compatible gear you won’t see any real improvement over the Bluetooth 4 devices you’re using today.
Connecting Bluetooth 5 headphones to an iPhone 7, for example, will work just fine because version 5 is backwards compatible with earlier Bluetooth specs. To take advantage of any benefits those new headphones may get from their wireless connection requires a Bluetooth 5-compatible iPhone, too. The iPhone 7, just like the current iPad and Mac lineups, support Bluetooth 4.2.
Apple could release new iPad models next spring with Bluetooth 5 support and do the same with the iPhone next fall, but until then your iOS devices will connect via Bluetooth 4.2.
We’re more likely to see Bluetooth 5 showing up in new smarthome devices first. Devices makers can adopt the standard for their sensors, switches, lights, and more because they can include their own Bluetooth 5 hub. CES 2017 is only weeks away and we’ll likely see some soon-to-be-released Bluetooth 5 products there.
Since Bluetooth 5 was announced earlier this year, it’s possible some manufacturers designed their products for the new specification, but certified as Bluetooth 4.2. They can reapply for Bluetooth 5 certification now.
And if there was any doubt Bluetooth 5 is all about the Internet of Things, check out this quote from the launch announcement: “With Bluetooth 5, Bluetooth continues to revolutionize how people experience the IoT. Bluetooth continues to embrace technological advancements and push the unlimited potential of the IoT.” That pretty much says it all.