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Tech Talk

Bluetooth about to become big time

6/29/2016

Some technology doesn’t realize its full potential until it has had a chance to iterate through several iterations. A handful of social media rose and fell before Facebook dominated, cellular telephones took nearly 20 years before they were a must-have device, and virtual reality developers seem to believe their tech has surpassed acceptance breakthrough (although I’m skeptical).

tech 6.30 But for technology to stay relevant, iteration and improvement must continue or it will be replaced by something new. At this very moment, Bluetooth has announced a very timely update that not only rockets the communication tool but has the potential to make it more popular than Wi-Fi.

To the novice tech user, Bluetooth is simply an annoying means for jerks to hang a tiny headset on their ear and make phone calls. For those with a slightly more informed understanding, they might use Bluetooth to connect speakers to their phone to listen to music or share files back and forth between devices. Still there are dozens of more uses of Bluetooth: connecting keyboards, cars, inside sports equipment, embedded shoe technology, Internet tethering to share signal from one device to several, and even some home appliances are Bluetooth enabled to allow for activation and power management.

While it might seem like tech wizardry, Bluetooth is simply another wireless communications standard that allows for data transfer. Just like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth uses radio waves to transmit data and connect systems. But due to stronger signal strength, Wi-Fi is generally used for establishing wireless networks whereas Bluetooth is used for more short-range communication and peer-to-peer sharing. In general Wi-Fi can support unlimited devices connected to a network, while Bluetooth is limited from two to eight connections at one time.

But big changes are coming to the Bluetooth universe. Later this year, the platform will transition from its fourth generation of technology to its fifth. And as nearly all these tech upgrades go, this improvement will bring a revolution of capabilities. Once released, Bluetooth 5 will supercharge the communication tool’s connection range from roughly 100 yards to 400 yards and data transfer speeds will ramp up as well by 800 percent. Developers see these changes as game-changers with the possibility for more rich, intensive data loads to be transferred and truly empower the long-discussed Internet of things, or network of smart household appliances and technology that can communicate user profiles and needs. Having been discussed for almost a decade at this point, Bluetooth 5 would allow for a stronger local network of communication for household smart tech. which means we would no longer have to rely on Wi-Fi connections that can be weakened by the number of users connected at one time.

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Of course, as anyone who has used Bluetooth on a phone knows, using the feature can be a power hog. Few things drain battery quicker than the wireless connection tools therein — not just Bluetooth, but active video transfer from Wi-Fi and long sessions of NFC. Even an idle Bluetooth connection pulls a weak drain on a battery. With developers not saying what the impact of this upgrade will have on battery drain, it’s easy to imagine it will be hefty.

Making matters worse, no word yet on if new hardware will be required to enjoy these stronger communication capabilities. App developers are itching to embrace Bluetooth, as it would allow for third-party device connections and free up Wi-Fi for Internet communications. Many cameras, media streaming dongles, speakers, smart thermostats, and more forgo Bluetooth for the longer range Wi-Fi. If Bluetooth 5 overcomes the current shortcomings, it could be huge for smart devices. But if drastic battery drain comes with the upgrade, Bluetooth 5 will be dead in the water. CV

 

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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