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Bluetooth Mesh: The Next Greatest Thing?

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Bluetooth Mesh: The Next Greatest Thing?

Experts share their perspectives on the industry’s newest networking protocol.

 

Conceived in 2015 and adopted in July 2017, Bluetooth Mesh is a networking protocol based on Bluetooth Low Energy that’s designed to create large-scale device networks by allowing for many-to-many (m:m) communication over Bluetooth radio.  The protocol is ideally suited for building automation, sensor networks, and other IoT solutions where tens, hundreds, or thousands of devices need to reliably and securely communicate with one another.

But will it see widespread use in the professional market, as some experts have predicted?

In an industry where Power over Ethernet (PoE) was forecast to experience large-scale adoption in 2018 but still remains in its infancy, lightED tapped experts from both the lighting manufacturing and electrical distribution sides to weigh in on the potential for Bluetooth Mesh now and in the future, and what distributors need to know about this emerging technology.

An Efficient Approach

“Bluetooth Mesh has all the qualities to make smart buildings an accessible and affordable reality for most customers because it’s reliable, secure, scalable, and easy to use,” shared Alberto Pierotti, head of both the R&D and Smart divisions for LEDVANCE (www.sylvania.com), which just launched Bluetooth Mesh smart lighting products to the consumer market. “Among its benefits, Bluetooth Mesh uses industry-standard, government-grade security and has low energy consumption — roughly one-tenth the energy usage of WiFi,” he said. “In terms of its scalability, up to 32,000 devices can be added per network with a range of 100 to 1,000 meters, which ensures the ability to build extensive networks that are controllable from a single point. And because asset tracking or similar location-based activities become a distributed task among all devices without having to rely on dedicated transponders, installations will involve less hardware, which is easier and less intrusive for contractors and end users.”

Based on its ease of use, Pierotti believes that Bluetooth Mesh is a great option for distributors and end users. “It’s compatible with any smartphone, tablet, and personal computer that are now part of our daily lives,” Pierotti explained. “This also eliminates the need for hubs or gateways and provides ease of provisioning during installation, update deployment, and in-the-field troubleshooting as well as a simple path to the cloud.”

A Viable Play?

While intrigued by its potential, Aaron Ruter, LC, lighting controls specialist at Minneapolis-based Viking Electric (www.vikingelectric.com), remains skeptical.  Though he admits that he’s less familiar with Bluetooth Mesh versus stand-alone Bluetooth technology, “there are a lot of Bluetooth products out there that are field-commissioned via Bluetooth and my experience is that Bluetooth isn’t nearly as strong as WiFi or RF; some products I use, like ETC’s Echo product line, allow you to commission the product via Bluetooth or WiFi and WiFi is the way to go,” Ruter said. “Bluetooth is great for ease of use but has very little range and, along with that, will likely result in some crashes and app restarts. RF is also strong and I can see that being used more frequently.” Nonetheless, he said, “whether it’s Bluetooth or RF, wireless technology seems to be where the industry is headed.”

Ruter’s perspective comes by way of hard-won experience with another heavily-publicized but still-emerging technology — Power over Ethernet. “In my opinion, PoE is a long way out for widescale use,” he said. “I don’t see the value when compared to a typical CAT5 networked system; I feel that WattStopper DLM, for example, is both more cost-effective and powerful. The play in POE-enabled fixtures and controls is that the contractor can bid a job with an apprentice running the LV wire, but in my experience not a lot of contractors are bidding jobs this way.”

As a result, Ruter isn’t necessarily convinced of Bluetooth Mesh’s immediate viability. “Viking Electric is very forward-thinking and we’re ahead of the pack in many regards, but I can’t see a new technology like this (if it’s indeed different from typical Bluetooth products) spreading very quickly,” Ruter said. “In our area here in the Midwest, I would see something like this taking a long time to catch on, given that we’re still seeing a lot of electrical contractors who use old-school lighting contactor technology to switch electrical power circuits.”

Pierotti agreed with Ruter’s past experience but quickly noted that Smart Home Bluetooth capabilities are indeed designed differently than Bluetooth applications that came out of consumer electronics products. “Bluetooth reach can be limited when the application device is battery-operated, like wireless headphones, for instance, because they usually rely on reduced-power radios with limited range to avoid draining the battery too quickly,” he explained. “Because lighting is connected to constant power and doesn’t need to use a battery, professional Bluetooth lighting options like the ones we’re developing can use higher-power radios that have ranges exceeding any user’s needs.”

Despite its applicability for the professional market, Pierotti concedes that Bluetooth Mesh may face a steep industry learning curve. As a result, “we’re gradually rolling out Bluetooth Mesh capabilities to all of our Bluetooth smart lighting offerings and are currently working on additional training material for distributors, including a sales training video and application video,” he said. Overall, “wireless technologies continue to be the future of lighting and Bluetooth Mesh can be an important part of that evolution,” Pierotti confirmed. “I recommend that distributors start familiarizing themselves now to get ahead of the curve rather than playing catch up to the competition down the road.”

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Susan Bloomis a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry. Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.

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