From the horse’s mouth
Bluetooth SIG have publicly launched the Bluetooth Mesh specification which adds on to the Bluetooth Low Energy specification to create a multi-device wireless mesh network, It is in addition to the “one-to-one” Bluetooth topology typically used for linking your smartphone to that Bluetooth speaker or the “one-to-many” broadcast-driven Bluetooth topology used for Bluetooth wayfinding beacons.
Such networks place importance on a “many-to-many” network topology where data can be shared amongst multiple network member devices while a member device can receive data from multiple other member devices. The signal paths effectively represent the lines of wire that make up a piece of wire meshing like “chicken wire” while each corner in that mesh represents the member devices in that network.
The “Internet Of Things” is being seen as a key application driver and I see it as a competing wireless-link technology to Zigbee and Z-Wave which are used for this similar application. Security will be designed in to this network technology to protect data from being listened to or modified by unauthorised parties, thanks to improved link-level encryption technology.
It will still have the same use cases as other technologies pitched at the “Internet-of-Things” space such as the smart home, building automation, health monitoring and industrial automation. But it takes advantage of the fact that Bluetooth technology is commonly integrated into the design of highly-portable host computing devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops, something that has been taken advantage of with some Bluetooth-based “smart-home” devices like the Kwikset Kevo smart deadbolt lock. Here, the host device can interact directly with one or more of these sensor or controller devices no matter how far it is from the host.
What will this mean for existing Bluetooth LE setups
The new Bluetooth Mesh network technology will be based on Bluetooth 4.0 LE Smart technology and extant Bluetooth chipsets that support in-field firmware updates can benefit from this functionality. Issues that may be faced include the memory capacity and computing power that the chipset may have, which may affect some designs, and will raise its head with chipsets deployed in a lot of sensor or controller devices.
Devices like smartphones or computers will need to be equipped with mesh-specific add-on software as part of their Bluetooth application-programming interface. Initially this may be delivered in the form of extra software tied to Bluetooth chipsets. But this functionality would be rolled in to operating systems through a subsequent functionality update.
The act of provisioning new Bluetooth Mesh devices will be driven by a host device running a configuration app or, more likely, an extra setup option in the host’s operating system. This is more about enrolling new devices to a Bluetooth Mesh network as well as removing devices surplus to need from that network, which also includes obliterating security keys associated with that network frim the surplus device.
The Bluetooth Mesh technology will be rolled out over the subsequent few years as newer capable chipsets come on board with this functionality and the firmware is made available for suitable extant chipsets. As well it may require each of the major operating systems to acquire a major functionality update to take place before more host devices can work in the Bluetooth Mesh.
At least the Bluetooth Mesh technology will be on a similar position to Zigbee and Z-Wave for wireless infrastructure that answers the needs of the Internet Of Things.