New Functionality Could Boost BLE's Role in the IoT

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group, which oversees the development of Bluetooth standards, has introduced a new energy-saving specification for Internet of Things devices containing Bluetooth and other radios.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 21, 2016

At Bluetooth World, an annual Bluetooth technology conference held last week in Santa Clara, Calif., the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) offered details about its plans to introduce Transport Discovery Service (TDS), a new specification designed to enable IoT devices to communicate more energy-efficiently.

The TDS provides a means of triggering the transmission of data between a wireless device and a client, even if the intended means of transmission is not active. For example, a wireless device that is battery-powered, and which only needs to send data over Wi-Fi periodically, could use the TDS to conserve battery power. In this scenario, the Wi-Fi radio would enter dormant mode when not needed, and the Bluetooth module would act as a sort of gatekeeper, searching for signals from other networks, such as Wi-Fi or ZigBee, and then waking those respective modules when they come into range of those networks. TDS works in Bluetooth devices compliant with version 4.0 or later of the Bluetooth Core Specification.

Errett Kroeter
Errett Kroeter, Bluetooth SIG's senior director of brand and developer marketing, says there is growing interest among manufacturers of connected devices in a wide range of industries to use the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) specification to connect devices to the Internet. The Transport Discovery Service provides a new way to do this in a manner than can also conserve a significant amount of battery life for wireless devices.

"The idea here is to make it easy for any wireless technology to be relevant" within an IoT context, Kroeter explains.

In order for the TDS to become a viable function, however, it must be integrated into the protocol that manages the communication module it awakens. That means organizations, such as the Wi-Fi Alliance and the ZigBee Alliance, will need to integrate TDS into their respective protocols. The development and commercialization of those respective communications standards will need to "come forward" and collaborate with the Bluetooth SIG in order to make the TDS functional, Kroeter says. With that caveat, he adds, it is feasible that IoT products with TDS functionality could begin entering the market as early as next year.

ABI Research predicts that by 2020, a third of all IoT devices will include a Bluetooth radio.

The Bluetooth SIG is also working toward a major update to the BLE Core Specification that will double the data speed that BLE radios can support—to up to 2 megabits per second—while also quadrupling the radio's range to 120 meters (394 feet). According to a Bluetooth SIG spokesperson, this increased speed and range will not increase the power consumption of BLE devices.

The hope is that this update will also standardize the mesh networking protocol, a draft specification of which the SIG released last year. "This will open up a huge number of doors for BLE" usability, the spokesperson says, noting that the update is scheduled for release during the second half of this year.

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