THE ORGANISATION behind the Bluetooth wireless communication protocol has published its long-awaited standard that extends Bluetooth’s physical range, a move that will dramatically open up commercial and industrial market opportunities for Internet of Things (IoT) lighting.
After two years of internal wrangling and difficult technology choices, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) ratified a standard to mesh together Bluetooth beacons, allowing them to give instructions to each other.
The move effectively boosts Bluetooth’s reach far beyond the typical 10m range that’s familiar to consumers sharing things like audio files among smartphone, computers, tables, TVs, and other devices.
‘We just completed a set of specifications that define a standard approach for creating true industrial-grade mesh networking solutions using Bluetooth technology,’ Bluetooth SIG vice president of marketing Ken Kolderup told Lux Review sister publication LEDs Magazine. ‘Now there’s a standard way that defines how mesh networking gets done on Bluetooth, so that all the [suppliers] can now create interoperable solutions’.
The mesh standard applies across all possible commercial, industrial, and residential information technology uses. The lighting industry in particular is welcoming the move as the new mesh could help drive IoT lighting, making it more likely that smart lights can cover large areas of retail stores, warehouse, commercial offices, and other locations.
Smart lights can engage shoppers on retail floors, can track assets and inventory in shops and warehouses, can adjust building management systems or readjust their own light settings, can advise facility managers on how to reassign space, and support many other data-oriented processes.
While other technologies such as ZigBee, Z-wave, visible light communication, and Power over Ethernet — to name just a few — can support those schemes, many lighting manufacturers have been counting on Bluetooth.
‘We’re extremely excited to see this happen,’ Gooee chief technology officer and co-founder Simon Coombes told LEDs Magazine. ‘We’ve been waiting a long time’. Gooee provides communication chips and sensors to luminaire makers including Aurora, Feilo Sylvania, and many others. It has been a leading advocate of IoT lighting.
But for all of its technology trailblazing over the last three years, it and its OEM customers have so far been slow to sign off end-user deployments. One main reason is that it has built its technology around a Bluetooth mesh scheme. While it and its chip partner Nordic Semiconductor have worked out proprietary approaches, Gooee has been loath to push wide-scale deployment until a standard was ready.
‘The lack of ratified mesh network has been a bottleneck for us,’ said Coombes. ‘Our core offering has been using mesh’.
The company now hopes to pick up its commercial pace and to refine its mesh technology to conform with the new standard. To that end, it operates a test centre in Florida where suppliers including Osram and Koopman Interlight, among others, have been trialling mesh. The centre operates three different mesh networks, currently including 470 LED lights.
The lack of a ratified mesh network has been a bottleneck so we’re extremely excited to see this happen’
Gooee has also implemented a couple of small-scale, pre-standard Bluetooth mesh smart lighting networks at end-user sites. For example, the BMW customer experience test centre in Munich, an Aurora-Gooee project, relies on a mesh topology.
The technology senses the presence of people approaching a car in a showroom environment, and can trigger actions such as creating an engine noise or setting off other things intended to engage the customers. Gooee has also implemented a small-scale mesh network in an industrial warehouse and is about to start on another, Coombes said.
Mesh is suitable for just about all of the applications that Gooee has been championing, in commercial, industrial, and retail environments. One practical limitation is that metal can interfere. Coombes described one implementation where the light fixtures sat next to iron girders, which Gooee overcame by adding an extra mesh pocket.
Feilo Sylvania has also launched a few mesh installations. For example, it relies on mesh for its smart lighting deployment at the headquarters of Dutch standards body NEN, said global director of strategy and new business development Bastiaan de Groot. It is also using Bluetooth mesh to change colours on cars in Mazda showrooms, and will soon deploy a mesh network at a site in France, he said.
Feilo works with a number of technology partners through its new SylSmart smart lighting integration program.
De Groot cautioned that ‘it will probably take quite a while before the whole mesh standard is really released, is mature enough, and is implemented on enough chipsets’.
Until then, he noted that Feilo and others will continue to deploy proprietary Bluetooth mesh. Nevertheless, he was encouraged by the SIG announcement, noting that ‘with the Bluetooth mesh standard, we get more interoperability, so an integration with a local HVAC system, et cetera, will become more possible’.
LED driver, module, and light engine company Fulham also applauded the new standard.
‘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,’ said Fulham vice president of global marketing and business development Russ Sharer.
So what took so long?
‘There was some real work to do; it’s very demanding, especially for a commercial environment,’ said Bluetooth SIG’s Kolderup, who noted that it took time to work out details related to reliability, scalability, performance, latency, security, and other aspects. The SIG also performed extensive interoperability testing to assure the best chance of all Bluetooth devices — the SIG has 32,000 members — working together in any scenario. For example,’we need to make sure that a switch you buy today can work with a light bulb you buy from a vendor that may not even exist today, 20 years from now,’ he noted.
And with 150 SIG members participating on the mesh job, differences of opinion also intervened. One of the choices centred on whether to use a ‘flood’ approach to meshing — akin to shouting loud — or a ‘routing’ approach, which is more like a series of whispers that works well in a wired environment. Eventually, ‘flood’ won.
‘As you might imagine there are many enthusiastic and charged discussions about this,’ Kolderup said. ‘But at the end of the day, there’s a process to work through those. Then everyone agrees, and kind of moves on.’
Bluetooth SIG will be demonstrating the new mesh standard at this year’s LuxLive 2017 exhibition in London.
- First published in Lux Review‘s sister publication LEDs Magazine. Mark Halper is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist
- Learn about the new Bluetooth standard and connected lighting at the Gooee IoT Arena at this year’s LuxLive 2017 exhibition on Wednesday 15 November and Thursday 16 November. Entry to all sessions are free if you pre-register at www.luxlive.co.uk.
Picture: Bluetooth SIG 2017