The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced that the next version of its nigh-ubiquitous wireless technology is now available.
Bluetooth 5 boasts many improvements over its predecessor. It's said to offer twice the speed, four times the range, and eight times the broadcasting message capacity of Bluetooth 4. This new version is also supposed to work better while other wireless signals like Wi-Fi are active. All of these improvements combine to allow Internet of Things (IoT) devices and other connected products to be far more reliable than they were in the past.
Here's what Bluetooth SIG had to say about Bluetooth 5 and IoT devices in an emailed press release:
“Bluetooth is revolutionising how people experience the IoT. Bluetooth 5 continues to drive this revolution by delivering reliable IoT connections and mobilising the adoption of beacons, which in turn will decrease connection barriers and enable a seamless IoT experience,” said Mark Powell, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG. “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.”
These changes arrive just as companies like Apple have started to remove physical connections from their devices. The iPhone 7 lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack, for example, and the company also removed many useful ports from the newest MacBook Pro. Besides requiring people to buy dongles to use any products that rely on these forsaken connections, these decisions also necessitate the development of better wireless connectivity.
Bluetooth 5 also debuts amid the IoT revolution. More people are buying connected toys, cameras, and other gadgets than ever before. These products have their advantages, but they also often have security vulnerabilities anyone can exploit if they're connected to the internet. Exploiting that insecurity can do everything from compromising the privacy of children and the people around them to bringing down some of the world's largest websites for a while.
Those problems could be mitigated if these devices aren't connected to the internet. This would limit their utility--some products are supposed to be controlled from anywhere in the world, for example--but it would also make them more secure. Why should a "smart" doll connect directly to the internet rather than only working with a phone? And what's wrong with a security system that uses Bluetooth to send its recordings to another device?
Neither option would be all that compelling with Bluetooth 4. The protocol simply doesn't have the range or reliability people want from their wireless connections. (I sometimes have audio problems with an iPhone 7 that's connected to Bluetooth headphones not three feet away.) If this new version is able to deliver on its promises, though, limiting these devices to a local network becomes a much more viable option for security-minded consumers.
Bluetooth SIG said products with Bluetooth 5 support could debut within two to six months. The group said it expects 13.9 billion wireless products to ship by 2020, and its goal is to make sure as many of those devices as possible support Bluetooth. Given how popular the standard is today, the fact that one of the world's largest tech companies seems to have a vendetta against physical connections, and Bluetooth 5's improvements, that shouldn't be too hard.