How Bluetooth Smart is shaping the internet of things

SJ: Retail marketers are seeing a huge benefit of Bluetooth in the form of beacons - small wireless sensors placed inside any physical space that transmit data to a smartphone using Bluetooth Smart.

In the retail environment, beacons allow retailers to interact with customers in new and targeted ways. In addition to creating wireless payment systems, they can trigger offers as a consumer passes a certain product display or simply enters the retail location.

Those offers can be customised by prior interactions with the customer to provide them an experience tailored to their interests. Think of a coffee shop that can send you an offer for your favourite beverage as you approach, then let's you order and even pay for the item all from your smartphone.

Beacon technology offers huge potential for developers looking to create apps that take advantage of these proximity sensors.

We're already starting to see developers use this technology for everything from navigation to personal shopping apps. In fact, all the major beacons offerings—everything from iBeacon to PayPal beacon—are all based on Bluetooth Smart technology.

Because it's flexible, inexpensive, and already in the smartphones consumers have in their pockets, Bluetooth Smart is at the foundation of this new retail experience. No other technology has been adopted so quickly.

TRP: How secure is this newest iteration of Bluetooth?

SJ: Bluetooth Smart uses government-grade 128-bit AES encryption – meaning the data sent in sensitive transactions like payment transfers or medical information is highly secure.

For those who aren't aware of encryption standards, I've seen calculations that claim that it would take a supercomputer a billion years to crack a 128-bit AES key, so it's pretty secure!

Bluetooth Smart also uses 'Adaptive Frequency Hopping'. Rather than sending data over just one channel of the 2.4 GHz band, Bluetooth is designed to "hop" between dozens of channels in a pseudo-random fashion.

Not only can Bluetooth hop at a rate of 1600 times per second, it can also "adapt", dropping channels that are in use by other devices.

This not only means that data gets from point A to point B even in environments where other wireless technologies are in use like hospitals, but it also has the additional security benefit of making it very difficult to predict which channel the data will be transmitted.

TRP: What do you think will be the three biggest trends in Bluetooth for the rest of 2014 and beyond?

SJ: Wireless audio is an obvious trend for Bluetooth adoption. With the widespread adoption of smartphones, over the last two years we've seen an explosion of wireless speakers as people stream music that's on the phone.

As a matter of fact Bluetooth speakers have grown at compounded annual growth rate of 453% since 2010. The automotive industry is a natural extension of this trend with the car increasingly becoming important as a communications hub.

Beyond audio streaming in the car, in 2015 I expect to see more applications being developed that can take advantage of the low energy applications of Bluetooth Smart.

Tyre pressure monitoring, remote keyless entry, proximity sensors to store driver preferences, and vehicle maintenance/analytics are all really interesting applications for which Bluetooth Smart is ideal.

Secondly, the wearables and sensors market is really going to showcase the flexibility of Bluetooth Smart. While sports and fitness devices currently represent the bulk of the wearable technology market, I saw many examples of smart watches, jewellery and glasses at CES 2014 that all utilised Bluetooth Smart.

While it may not be true currently, it's only a matter of time before wearables go mass market. More niche sensors will also emerge such as gardening sensors and proximity sensors to find items, connecting almost anything you care about, and Bluetooth Smart will be the central enabler.

We call this the 'internet of my things', and it just wouldn't be possible without Bluetooth Smart. Because our technology is so power efficient, cost effective and built into the smartphones and tablets that consumers already own, it's the natural wireless connection technology.

Last, but definitely not least, the rapid emergence of Bluetooth enabled beacons is going to be a huge trend for the rest of 2014. It's one way that Bluetooth Smart is going beyond enabling the internet of my things and making the 'internet of everything' a reality.

Bluetooth Smart is making scenarios just dreamed about a reality – like driving down a crowded city street and having an available parking spot ping your phone, or your grocery store knowing when you last purchased milk and sending a reminder that you are running low when you're in the dairy aisle.

The foundation of Bluetooth Smart for retail scenarios is going to set the stage for an explosion of beacon technology in 2014 and the coming years.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.