Bluetooth 4.2, the local connection for IoT

Mike Crooks is head of Innovation at Mubaloo Innovation
Lab.

As readers of this site will know, when Bluetooth was originally invented by Ericsson, Nokia, Intel and Toshiba, it was intended to act as a way of providing cable-free connections between computers with mobile phones, PDAs, printers and other computer peripherals. The story goes that Bluetooth was given its name, because of Harald Bluetooth, the king who unified Denmark and Norway.Today, Bluetooth has become one of the main ways in which devices connect to each other locally. Ironically, rather than the computer being the main bridge, it is now the smartphone which sits at the centre of the Bluetooth ecosystem. As the technology has progressed, naturally it has been deemed a technology that has the potential to be a key connecting technology for the Internet of Things, says Mike Crooks is head of Innovation at Mubaloo Innovation Lab.

Bluetooth’s role within IoT is almost to be expected. At a local level, ‘things’ need connectivity. Bluetooth isn’t trying to fill the role of a cellular or Wi-Fi connection, which both have long and medium range use cases, that suit the technologies better than Bluetooth. At a local level, however, Bluetooth is key for Internet of Things; which is exactly why we are seeing more work to optimise the technology for .

The announcement of Bluetooth 4.2 in December 2014, was the clearest sign that the technology was being geared up as a local IoT communication client. It pushed Bluetooth beyond requiring a physical presence for connection, into transforming the technology into a remote communication and control mechanism.

One of the first steps, beyond being a communication protocol between devices for the rise of Bluetooth within IoT, was BLE beacons. Whilst many use cases have so far focused on beacons within a marketing context, to deliver contextual information to users via their mobile phones, it is actually the enterprise use case that has always been the most interesting with beacons. The ability to deliver contextual information, about assets in the vicinity, whilst improving interaction with digital devices, delivers efficiencies within enterprise.

As the technology progressed, adding sensors to beacons furthered what could be delivered via Bluetooth to mobile workers. Today, we are able to use smart beacons to collect data about assets around us, covering energy usage, liquid levels, temperature, pressure, magnetic field and humidity. As Bluetooth 4.2 brings mesh networking and IPv6, the ability to collect this information remotely, whilst also delivering remote control, presents a huge opportunity and enabler within IoT.

With Bluetooth 4.2, the SIG is focusing hard on the ways in which Bluetooth will form the local connection for connected devices. These include Bluetooth GAP (Generic Access Profile) and GATT (Generic Attribute Profile), with APIs for gateways to connect devices via a central hub; a new HTTP Proxy Service for Bluetooth Smart to communicate with standard cloud web servers and IPv6 over low power personal area networks.

One of the big concerns that businesses have had with Bluetooth Low Energy, which is essential for IoT, is security. With 4.2, full public key cryptography has been added for authentication in low energy, using Federal Information Processing Standards compliant algorithms. This brings Low Energy authentication mechanisms to the same standard as Bluetooth Classic. With this feature, dual mode devices only need to pair once and have the same fully secure connection, regardless of which mode was used to authenticate.

All of this presents developers and manufacturers with a sandbox of functionality to test and build on for secure, connected equipment that is able to collect data and control equipment both locally and remotely.

Though most companies have so far focused on Wi-Fi and cellular technologies for Internet of Things, Bluetooth offers a cheaper alternative and, or complementary technology. Many scenarios will require the need for multiple communications protocols to be implemented. BLE will primarily find use in peer-to-peer use cases and where mobile devices are used as the gateway to the Internet, with other protocols used for remote implementations.

Mike Crooks is head of Innovation for Mubaloo Innovation Lab, a division of Mubaloo, which partners with companies to enable enhanced end-user engagement and business process transformation, through the deployment of market leading location-based technology and IoT solutions.

The author of the blog is Mike Crooks is head of Innovation at Mubaloo Innovation Lab.

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