What is Bluetooth 5? The iPhone 8 and iPhone X’s new wireless tech explained

Bluetooth 5 is quickly gaining traction, with Apple following Samsung’s Galaxy S8 range by introducing Bluetooth 5 with the newly announced iPhone 8 and iPhone X. You probably have questions. Luckily, we have answers. Here’s all you need to know.

The new Bluetooth standard, released for use back in December 2016, promises quadrupled range compared to Bluetooth 4.2. Cutting-edge devices like the iPhone X and Galaxy S8 are the first to the party and can now be up to 800 feet away from compatible headphones, speakers and fitness trackers while maintaining connectivity.

Bluetooth 5.0 also promises twice the data transfer speed of the previous version.

However, perhaps most excitingly, Bluetooth 5.0 has enough bandwidth to support two sets of wireless devices at the same time.

This could mean speakers in different rooms, or the ability to listen to support two sets of headphones without having to share a bud with your friend (as romantic as that is).

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Yes, the next Bluetooth standard, Bluetooth 5, brings with it some serious upgrades including increased range, speed, and broadcast messaging capacity. So what exactly is Bluetooth 5 and why does it matter? Let’s start with the basics before expanding.

What’s better about Bluetooth 5? It’s faster, has longer range, and can transfer more information.
Why does that matter? Aside from the obvious benefits, the new standard is going to help support the IoT.
When is it coming out? It’s already here!

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a wireless connection standard intended to connect disparate devices and transfer data over short distances. It is fittingly named after 10th-century king Harald Bluetooth, who united Denmark’s tribes into a single kingdom.

Bluetooth was invented by Ericsson in 1994, but it wasn’t until 1998 that the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (Bluetooth SIG) was established by Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Toshiba and Nokia, and 1999 when it was initially standardised.

The Bluetooth SIG, which has since grown to some 25,000 member companies, has overseen Bluetooth’s development ever since.

The last major version of the standard, Bluetooth 4.0, was officially rolled out in 2011, while the last iterative update was Bluetooth 4.2 on December 2, 2014. Now it’s time for Bluetooth 5 to enter the stage.

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Where did the ‘v’ and the ‘.’ go?

You’ve probably noticed that Bluetooth SIG has dropped the .0 from the version number for Bluetooth 5, as well as the ‘v’ (it’s technically Bluetooth v4.2, for example).

This is a pretty straight-forward marketing decision on Bluetooth SIG’s part, aimed at: “Simplifying our marketing, communicating user benefits more effectively and making it easier to signal significant technology updates to the market.”

So what does Bluetooth 5 have to offer? Here’s what we know so far.

Bluetooth 5 is faster

Bluetooth 5 offers twice the the data transfer speed of the previous version, Bluetooth 4.2 while increasing the capacity of data broadcasts by 800%. With Bluetooth 5 you can send and receive much more data much more quickly.

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Bluetooth speakers

Bluetooth 5 has longer range

The new standard is effective over four times the range of Bluetooth 4.2, which will come in particularly useful for things like portable speakers. You’ll be able to wander further away with your phone without stopping the music, for example.

Mark Powell, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG explains: “Increasing operation range will enable connections to IoT devices that extend far beyond the walls of a typical home.”

Bluetooth 5 is ready for the IoT

Bluetooth 4.2 added some features to make it work better with the so-called Internet of Things, and Bluetooth 5 places such functionality front and centre. Of course, its extra range and capacity will help more smart household devices talk to each other, but the increase to broadcast capacity means the new standard will be able to communicate much more easily with IoT devices.

The Bluetooth SIG says the upgrades to range, speed, and capacity will “redefine the way Bluetooth devices transmit information, moving away from the app-paired-to-device model to a connectionless IoT where there is less need to download an app or connect the app to a device.”

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Powell adds: “Bluetooth will be in more than one-third of all installed IoT devices by 2020. The drive and innovation of Bluetooth will ensure our technology continues to be the IoT solution of choice for all developers.”

Bluetooth 5 boosts location services

Bluetooth 5 isn’t just about being faster and longer-range than before – it’ll also help facilitate additional location-based functionality. In particular, it should boost the uptake of Beacon technology, which will result in significantly improved indoors navigation in shopping centres and the like.

This will be possible because Bluetooth 5 will add “significantly more capacity to advertising transmission,” according to Bluetooth SIG. This means that it will be able to convey much more information to other compatible devices without forming an actual connection.

Bluetooth logo

Previous Bluetooth standards already do this in order to notify you about the name and nature of other open Bluetooth networks, but it seems Bluetooth 5 will be able to do much more with it.

As the Bluetooth SIG puts it: “With the major boost in broadcast messaging capacity, the data being transferred will be richer, more intelligent.”

Bluetooth 5 will add location and navigation functionality, so that Beacons can transmit custom information without connection and application barriers.

In other words, you won’t need to install an app or go through connection set-ups in order to receive specific location-based information from Bluetooth Beacons.

Your old devices probably won’t benefit

While your existing phones, speakers and equipment may work with Bluetooth 5 devices, they almost certainly won’t benefit from its extra capabilities. That means you’ll need to buy all-new Bluetooth 5-ready gear to take advantage of its entire expanded feature set.

Bluetooth 5 release date

Bluetooth 5 went live back in December 2016, and is now already available in devices. Probably the biggest Bluetooth 5 news recently is that the technology features in the Samsung Galaxy S8 and iPhone 8/iPhone X.

Expect to see even more devices rock the new connectivity standard in 2018.

Are you prepared to invest in new Bluetooth 5 kit from the off? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.