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What is Bluetooth 5? The new wireless technology standard explained



Bluetooth 5 has been announced, and you probably have questions. Luckily, we have answers. Here's all you need to know.

(Update: 7 December 2016): Starting today, Bluetooth 5 is now widely available, launching with the promise of quadrupled range, a doubling of speed (from 1MBps to 2MBps), and all without an increase in energy consumption. It's also claimed that we'll see an 800% increase in broadcast messaging capacity, as well as "coexistence" with other connectivity technologies like Wi-Fi and 4G/LTE for "more robust connections". Read on to find out more.

The next Bluetooth Standard, Bluetooth 5, has now officially been announced, and it 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.

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? Late 2016/Early 2017, but we won't see Bluetooth 5 devices hit the market for a while after that.

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.

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%. Tith Bluetooth 5 you can send and receive much more data much more quickly.

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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

The Bluetooth SIG has confirmed that Bluetooth 5 will arrive late 2016/early 2017. Considering that means it will open up the technology to manufacturers at that time, we're expecting to see the first Bluetooth 5-enabled consumer products in late 2017, once manufacturers have had a chance to build it into their devices.

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

Wayne Lambert

June 30, 2016, 7:10 pm

Will the iPhone 7 come Bluetooth 5 ready even if it won't quite be available at the point of release.

The other thing is like to know. If you wanted say a CarPlay enabled Bluetooth stereo after market head unit paired with say an iPhone 7, would both the iPhone 7 and the CarPlay stereo both need to be Bluetooth 5 ready to benefit from Bluetooth 5 features? Or would it just need to be the sending device that needs to be Bluetooth 5 ready (i.e. the iPhone)?

Marty McFly

August 24, 2016, 2:21 pm

Yes, because Apple are well known for being so awesome with wireless implementation they are going to bring it out months before the final spec is even released.
They didn't even need to borrow my car...

Wayne Lambert

August 25, 2016, 6:04 am

OK, smart arse... If you seem to know everything, answer the question I raised in my second paragraph.

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