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What’s blue, meshed and could trigger a new wave of smart building technology adoption? This is no joke! Last week, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced that Bluetooth technology, the global standard for simple, secure wireless connectivity, now supports mesh networking. This seemingly simple development has the capacity to disrupt connectivity within the smart building as well as many other applications in the internet of things (IoT) revolution.
The new mesh capability (m:m) device communications and is optimized for creating large-scale device networks. It is ideally suited for building automation, sensor networks and other IoT solutions where tens, hundreds, or even thousands of devices need to reliably and securely communicate with one another.
“By adding support for mesh networking, the Bluetooth member community is continuing a long history of focused innovation to help new, up-and-coming markets flourish,” said Mark Powell, executive director for Bluetooth SIG Inc.
“In the same way the connected device market experienced rapid growth after the introduction of Bluetooth Low Energy, we believe Bluetooth mesh networking can play a vital role in helping early stage markets, such as building automation and wireless sensor networks, experience more rapid growth,” he added.
SIG predicts that commercial building and factory automation represents a major market opportunity for wireless mesh networking technologies. These markets demand true industrial-grade solutions, which Bluetooth mesh uniquely delivers.
Adding mesh capability to Bluetooth enables inherently self-healing networks with no single points of failure, making it considerably more reliable than ever before. It creates scalability supporting thousands of nodes with industrial-level performance, while also raising security levels for protection against all currently known attack methods.
Crucially, for a connectivity technology that has been struggling to find its place in the IoT space, mesh networking enabled bluetooth means interoperability. Time and time again it has been shown that markets flourish when multi-vendor interoperability exists. Bluetooth mesh delivers proven, global interoperability that assures products from different vendors work together.
Using a full-stack approach that defines the low-level radio up to the high-level application layer, Bluetooth Mesh ensures that all aspects of the technology are fully specified. SIG impressed technology commentators by conducting comprehensive, multi-vendor interoperability testing during the specification development process, rather than after the specification release. They also refer to their 20 year history of delivering the qualification tools and processes needed to ensure global, multi-vendor interoperability, as a sign of the upgrade’s quality.
“Multi-vendor interoperability is a major factor in determining how fast markets develop,” said Russ Sharer, VP Global Marketing and Business Development at lighting solution provider Fulham. “Fulham is excited to finally see a wireless, multi-vendor, interoperable standard for lighting controls and we believe Bluetooth mesh networking will greatly expand the size and functionality of the market.”
So what does this really mean for the smart building market who already have mesh networking capability through Wi-Fi connectivity? Well, in one word, “simplicity.”
So far, setting up a comprehensive IoT system has been limited to large-scale, smart-focused commercial buildings and extremely enthusiastic hobbyists, because the complexity of doing so requires a great deal of expertize. If setting up a network of devices in a smart building or smart home was as simple as pairing your smartphone with a portable speaker, for example, then we would be right to expect mesh networking Bluetooth technology to trigger a new wave of IoT adoption.
There’s more to this example, every smartphone is bluetooth enabled and smartphones are becoming central to the smart building experience, be that as a control interface for building systems or identification for access control, for example. This gives mesh networking Bluetooth technology a platform upon which to foster quick and significant adoption. There’s also much more to this development than smartphone integration. Szymon Slupik, president and CTO of Silvair and chairman of the mesh working group within the Bluetooth SIG, highlights one lighting application from a sea of potential opportunities.
“Within the building automation market, there is a growing focus on connected lighting and the role it can play as a platform for providing automation services throughout a facility,” said Slupik. “A smart lighting platform built on top of Bluetooth mesh networking can also support asset tracking, point of interest, and way-finding services. These value-added capabilities are part of why we believe Bluetooth is an ideal technology for enabling a mesh network.”
A simple solution that adds value is the cornerstone of greater adoption. The IoT in smart buildings has generated a huge amount of hype in recent years but you will not find one expert that believes it has got anywhere near its potential market penetration. Bluetooth mesh networking is no joke, in fact it may be the missing ingredient that could raise the IoT in smart buildings into the mainstream, where it belongs.