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You can now make smart gadgets and IoT devices that use Bluetooth 5

In a few months, Bluetooth 5 will finally arrive in smartphones and tablets. But you can already test the technology on developer boards being shipped by hardware makers.

Bluetooth 5 is a major step ahead for the venerable technology, which was introduced in 1999 to hook up devices wirelessly. It is two times faster than predecessor Bluetooth 4.2, has four times longer range, and boasts cool new connectivity features.

It can transfer data at speeds of up to 2Mbps (bits per second) and has a realistic range of 120 meters. The range could be even longer in a clear line of sight, the standards setting organization Bluetooth Special Interest Group said.

That's good news for those who pair mobile devices or PCs to peripherals like wireless speakers. There will be fewer connection drops.

A Bluetooth device will also transmit data from one device to many, a feature that will be beneficial in smart homes. For example, if a surveillance system detects a thief, it could use Bluetooth 5 to simultaneously activate the safety light and the alarm system.

The new wireless standard can also broadcast richer data, like location information and URLs. That could be useful in retail stores or even self-driving cars, which transfer navigation data.

Bluetooth 5 will reach devices in two to six months, the Bluetooth SIG said in December. Some of the first devices could be smartphones and tablets with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 chips, which has Bluetooth 5 in the chipset.

But you can start testing Bluetooth 5 with wireless boards now shipping. The boards will be particularly handy for tinkerers prototyping gadgets or developing internet of things devices for automation or industrial settings.

Wireless boards like Particle and Espressif Systems -- which primarily use Wi-Fi -- are extremely popular, but other boards with Bluetooth 5 functionality are available or are coming soon.

Abelon Systems Bluetooth 5 for IoT

If you're developing prototype gadgets, Abelon Systems' Internet of Things Reference Platform will offer a range of wireless connectivity technology, including support for Bluetooth 5. It will also support ZigBee and the emerging low-bandwidth IoT connectivity technologies like SIGFOX or LoRaWAN. On-board sensors include an accelerometer, gyrometer, and magnetometer, but other sensors could be attached through interfaces. It has the popular I2C and UART connector interfaces. It will ship later this year, and the price wasn't immediately available.

Nordic Semiconductor's hardware development kit

Nordic's nRF52840 Preview Development Kit, which is priced between US$40 and $50, is a development board on which small electronics can be developed. The board is compatible with Arduino Uno Revision 3, a popular electronics development environment. It has a 64Mhz Cortex-M4F processor, 1MB of integrated flash storage, and 256KB of RAM. It supports ARM Mbed, a cloud-based development platform. It also has an NFC interface and a wide number of connectors. It also has a USB 2.0 interface.

TI's SimpleLink Bluetooth board

Texas Instruments was one of the first to jump on the Bluetooth 5 bandwagon, and its $29 Launchpad Board wireless development kit is designed to test Bluetooth 5 applications in IoT settings. The board will be upgradeable to Bluetooth 5 when the full firmware stack is released. It has a 48Mhz ARM Cortex-M3 processor and a set of inputs to connect sensors. It is available on TI's website.

IDG Insider

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