Vendors float Bluetooth connectivity alternatives - Embedded.com

Vendors float Bluetooth connectivity alternatives

Google, CSR and Nordic Semiconductor pitched different ways to connected Bluetooth devices for the emerging Internet of Things. Their presentations led off the annual Bluetooth World event here where vendors showed wireless wearable and smart home gadgets that ranged from hearing aids and toys to espresso machines and bikes.

As many as three billion devices will ship with Bluetooth this year, rising to nine billion in 2019. By that time the cost of adding Bluetooth will fall to less than a dollar, said Mark Powell, executive director at the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) in opening remarks here.

How to link those devices for various IoT scenarios was a hot topic at the event.

Google said developers should ditch beacon apps in favor of open Web services it is prototyping. Nordic Semiconductor called for others to follow its direction in supporting a full Internet Protocol stack on IoT nodes, while CSR touted its homegrown mesh network and advocated a hybrid approach that supports IP addressability without the baggage of a full IP stack on each node.

The IP debate is playing out in a SIG working group developing a mesh network capability similar to what IEEE 802.15.4 networks such as Zigbee have today. The group is expected to issue a spec for Bluetooth mesh networking next year.

Although no decision has been made, the mesh spec will probably describe a hybrid approach to IP, said Robin Heydon, a CSR senior engineer who chairs the SIG’s work group.

“Devices that need an absolute minimum will not send IP packets but logically could be part of an IP network,” Heydon told EE Times. “You can address such nodes as if they had IP but they are not IP in themselves — that’s a good compromise for optimizing for low power and still have access to a powerful network,” he said.

Heydon shows a proprietary CSRmesh module now on sale that has been demonstrated linking up to 1,000 nodes so far and is one proposal for the Bluetooth mesh standard.

Heydon shows a proprietary CSRmesh module now on sale that has been demonstrated linking up to 1,000 nodes so far and is one proposal for the Bluetooth mesh standard.

In a keynote talk, a representative of Nordic called for supporting IPv6 over Bluetooth. The company has been shipping such software on its nRF51 chips since December, based on the SIG’s IP Support Package.

More than 2,000 people have downloaded the software so far but no one has announced products using it, said Thomas Bonnerud, a product management director at Nordic. That’s because the SIG needs to build an ecosystem of chips, devices and software supporting the approach which he said will enable large, distributed networks where nodes can talk to each other or directly to cloud services through open source routing protocols.

CSR’s Heydon argued that many IoT nodes don’t need the complexity and power drain that comes from supporting IP elements such as UDP, CoAP and XML. “Shaving even a couple cents off the price of a chip will increase sales tremendously, and I want to optimize for increasing sales,” he said.

Bonnerud countered that most of the IP elements (right) need less than 24 Kbytes flash and 8 Kbytes RAM. With the exception of TCP, they add less than 10 percent to the loading of a Bluetooth chip’s CPU, he said. Representatives of Mindspeed who make silicon blocks for Bluetooth were also on hand showing IPv6 stacks running on their silicon.

Apart from the IP debate, Scott Jenson, a product strategy manager at Google, called for a new approach to using Bluetooth to advertise nearby services to smartphones. Developers should create beacons that broadcast URLs to devices using open Web services and notifications rather than the current approach of using apps.

“It doesn’t make sense to install an app for each [service], it doesn’t scale — we need a discovery service,” said Jenson, describing Google’s Physical Web initiative. “This can’t be a Google product [because] I want a whole bunch of beacons and devices [so] we create a market that no company can control,” he added, in a jab to his former employer, Apple.

Google is now making several prototype services using open source code, including one Jenson demonstrated for buying a candy bar from a vending machine. Some services require devices to have an Internet connection while others are simpler, based on direct links and JavaScript commands. The effort has 4,000 followers and is in discussions with the W3C about setting standards for it, he said.

The current beacon application was a hot topic at the event. Powell estimated there could be 60 million Bluetooth beacons deployed by 2016.

Next page: Seed Labs, NXP go their own ways


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1 thought on “Vendors float Bluetooth connectivity alternatives

  1. “CSRMesh is interesting, as are other meshes, but anything that is proprietary is broken. We need open standards with free participation to make this stuff work.nnBluetooth is not really much better – having to sign up to a $15k membership to use the log

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