Bluetooth mesh was released in July 2017 and its announcement has unleashed the much impressive potential of many-to-many communications which will enable homes, offices, factories, and cities to move beyond being simply connected to being truly smart. Specialists expect Bluetooth mesh to become as ubiquitous as all other Bluetooth connectivity and anticipate a wave of new devices hitting the market. With significant security updates, doubled throughput, and large expansion of existing solution, Bluetooth mesh is said to be ideal for industrial IoT solutions.
We’ve known Bluetooth mainly as a wireless technology standard for sending data over short distances from connected devices such as headphones, computers, and speakers. Since Bluetooth invention in 1990s, there have been multiple versions of the Bluetooth Core Specification, the most recent being Bluetooth 5.0 (unveiled in June 2016). This version, similarly to Bluetooth Mesh, focuses on features needed in IoT technologies, such as improved speed, increased data broadcasting capacity, and an increase in packet lengths. However, while Bluetooth 5.0 is still based on point-to-point, star, or broadcast based network topologies, Bluetooth Mesh introduces a new and innovative approach in this respect.
To understand the advantages of Bluetooth Mesh, you first need to understand how the mesh networking works.
In general, Bluetooth, as mentioned above, is a ‘star-type topology’. In short, this means that all devices are connected to one central hub rather than communicating directly with each other. The only way to expand such kind of network is to connect more devices to the main hub.
On the other hand, mesh networking works in such a way that all of the devices in the network can communicate with each other, rather than having to connect with one central hub. Such a solution makes the network area virtually unlimited, making it extremely useful for industrial IoT operations like large connected sensor networks.
Michael McDonald — Vice President of Toshiba America Electronic Components, Inc. – believes that Bluetooth Mesh and recent Bluetooth 5.0 standards can significantly increase the range and robustness of Bluetooth and extend its use to many new consumer markets, as well as industrial, energy, and commercial applications. Experts also predict the addition of mesh to the Bluetooth standard to open up significant opportunities for richer experiences in smart homes and building automation while enabling fresh waves of innovation across a range of IoT applications. In the light of the recent research conducted by ABI Research, the future of IoT and Bluetooth Mesh looks promising (to say the least). ABI is expecting 48 billion Internet-enabled devices to be installed by 2021, and one-third of them is said to include Bluetooth.
Bluetooth Mesh is also expected to make the largest impact in commercial lighting and industrial applications, and to eventually become a standard in the larger Internet of Things ecosystem. Perhaps the most significant reason for that is the fact that Bluetooth Mesh allows us to move away from the typical personal area network and extend both the range and number of devices a Bluetooth network can have. A great example of that is a smart home as it can easily have 30-50 devices connected (not necessarily in the direct range of each other). Another exciting thing about Bluetooth mesh is that its nodes can still support the existing Bluetooth LE topologies. This means that smartphones can also be connected to the Bluetooth mesh networks to control and monitor the Bluetooth mesh nodes as i.e. indoor positioning and asset tracking, just to name a few. In other words, the case for using our smartphones for monitoring and receiving alerts from home devices is now better than ever.
Bluetooth Mesh is undoubtedly one of those technologies which raise the question of security. The use of security is mandatory with Bluetooth Mesh. Every device added to the network must be given security keys for all network, application, and device management operations. Additionally, every packet sent in a Bluetooth Mesh network must be authenticated and encrypted. A dual layer security model used by Bluetooth Mesh first activates at the network level and then at the application level. The network level security is used to authenticate and encrypt all communications within a Bluetooth Mesh network and all nodes participating in that network.
While there are still not many devices which support Bluetooth Mesh these problems will likely be solved in the upcoming years. All in all, Bluetooth Mesh is a strong candidate for IoT and especially for industrial sector. Its interoperability with existing Bluetooth 4+ devices, strong security features, and support of thousands of nodes on a single network make Bluetooth Mesh arguably the best solution for IoT applications.