Why your next smart bulb might have Bluetooth inside Credit: Michael Brown IDGIDG
Business Management

Why your next smart bulb might have Bluetooth inside

Bluetooth might not be the first wireless technology that springs to mind when it comes to taking charge of your smart bulbs, but that might be about to change.

While the Zigbee wireless standard has traditionally ruled the roost when it comes to wireless smart bulb protocols, Bluetooth appears to be gaining momentum.

An analyst report recently highlighted by the Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group) projects that shipments of Bluetooth-equipped residential lighting products are primed to quadruple in the next five years. Then there was last month’s announcement that Signify’s Philips Hue smart bulbs are changing over to a new chip that features both Bluetooth and Zigbee radios, a development with potentially game-changing consequences in the smart lighting market because it eliminates the need for a central hub.

The pairing of Zigbee and Bluetooth in new Philips Hue smart bulbs could be a sign of a complementary rather than competitive future for these wireless protocols, and that’s great news for shoppers.

Zigbee vs. Bluetooth? Not necessarily

Until now, consumers faced a tricky choice when picking a smart bulb: powerful features with a pricier outlay, or an easier, cheaper setup with stripped-down options.

Take Zigbee, a smart-home protocol that offers a wide degree of control over your smart lights, allowing you to put them on a schedule, switch them on and off when you’re out of the house, and even connect them to other smart devices. The downside: the Zigbee protocol requires a bridge device to connect your bulbs to your Wi-FI network, and a Zigbee bridge will set you back $50 or more.

Bluetooth, meanwhile, makes for an enticing choice when it comes to smart bulbs, mainly because Bluetooth-enabled smart bulbs don’t need a bridge, and they don’t demand much in the way of setup. Just fire up a smartphone app and you’re ready to flick the switches on your new smart bulbs. On the other hand, you need to be in the same room (generally speaking) to control a smart bulb via Bluetooth, and you’ll forgo the ability to connect them to sensors or other similar smart devices.

(Smart bulbs that connect directly to your Wi-Fi network are also a thing, although LIFX and TP-Link are the only big-name companies making them, and neither can match the breadth and depth of the Philips Hue ecosystem.)

So, which protocol to choose? Until recently, smart bulb shoppers had to skip some big-name brands that didn’t support their protocol of choice. Those who wanted a quick and cheap smart bulb setup couldn’t go with Zigbee-compliant Philips Hue bulbs, for example, while shoppers who wanted to connect their bulbs to other smart devices couldn’t go the C by GE way—at least not without buying C by GE Smart Bridge.

The best of both worlds

But the announcement of new Philips Hue bulbs with chips that boast both Zigbee and Bluetooth radios could mark the beginning of a welcome sea change.

Because they support both Zigbee and Bluetooth, the latest generation of Philips Hue bulbs essentially give you the best of both worlds: a cheap and easy Bluetooth setup for those who’d rather not cough up extra cash, as well as more involved and connected configurations for smart home users with Zigbee-compliant wireless bridges at their disposal.

My guess is that more and more smart bulb manufacturers will follow in the footsteps of Signify and its Philips Hue smart bulbs by making products that support both Bluetooth and Zigbee technology, particularly if dual-radio Zigbee/Bluetooth chips become the norm.

If that happens, you next smart bulb will probably have Bluetooth inside, whether you were shopping for a Bluetooth bulb or not.

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