What the New Bluetooth Low Energy Standard Means for Your Business

On Dec. 3, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group rolled out Specification 4.2, which enables IP addressability and boosts security controls.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 08, 2014

The latest standard for the Bluetooth wireless networking protocol, Bluetooth 4.2, was released last week. Bluetooth 4.2 opens up new deployment options for users of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices, including Bluetooth beacons, as well as other products containing BLE radios. These include intelligent light bulbs, electronically controlled door locks, security sensors, or wearables sensors issued to medical patients and used to track such factors as heart rate or respiration, as part of home health-care systems. The updates are focused on connectivity, security and privacy features.

Under the current (4.1) Bluetooth standard, users can only connect to Bluetooth devices through an application, but 4.2 includes an Internet Protocol Support Profile (IPSP), enabling users to assign an Internet Protocol (IP) address (complaint with the IPv6 or 6LoWPAN standard) to a Bluetooth device. This way, that device can communicate directly through a router, which means a user can control it through the cloud rather than via an application.

Pulling data from or sending commands to a Bluetooth device via Wi-Fi is computationally taxing and uses a considerable amount of energy, says Errett Kroeter, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG)'s senior director of marketing. That means that Bluetooth devices currently need to be plugged into a power source to be used this way—ruling out myriad applications for Bluetooth beacons, which are small wireless Bluetooth radios that are generally battery-powered, though some are designed to be powered by a USB port, or for BLE-powered wireless sensors used in building security or automation applications, or for home health-care applications. Addressing Bluetooth beacons via IPv6 or 6LoWPAN requires a fraction of the energy that a device needs to communicate via Wi-Fi, and means that, say, beacons could be used for asset tracking or access control without the need for a separate application to manage those devices.

In terms of how Bluetooth 4.2 will impact businesses, being able to connect directly to the Internet, rather than first having to send data to consumers' smartphones, should be a boon for makers of Bluetooth-enabled "smart home" devices, as consumers who have been watching and waiting on deploying such systems within their homes might now be swayed to buy. The adoption of the 4.2 specification would also make Bluetooth-enabled smart home products more competitive with similar devices that employ the Thread Protocol, released earlier this year and developed by a group of companies including Nest, ARM and Samsung. The Thread Protocol already supports IP-addressing—as well as mesh networking, which the Bluetooth 4.2 does not include.

Errett Kroeter
For asset-tracking applications, such as using Bluetooth beacons to track equipment inside a facility, or for access-control applications, such as integrating Bluetooth radios into employee badges, being able to communicate with these radios via a wireless local area network (LAN) will make them less complicated to deploy and manage.

The 4.2 standard also makes it possible to secure transmissions to Bluetooth devices using the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) AES 128-bit encryption key. "This standard was partially deployed in previous [BLE] standards, but there was a propriety encryption key," Kroeter says. "We moved to the industry-standard key for better security, and because it will bring the security standard for Bluetooth Low Energy devices into parity with the Bluetooth Classic standard."

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