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Is Bluetooth Mesh About to Be the Next Big Home Automation Standard?

Though many companies utilize Bluetooth for home automation, this is the first time that a group of companies is going to sit down and decide on an absolute standard of interoperability, according to one expert.

Is Bluetooth Mesh About to Be the Next Big Home Automation Standard?

Take a look around this year’s edition of CES and you will find no shortage of home automation standards and protocols. Could Bluetooth Mesh be the next big smart home standard? Did you already think it was a smart home standard? Think again.

It’s true, we see plenty of Bluetooth-enabled home automation devices on the market that seem to work so elegantly together. For example, I just installed a few Bluetooth-enabled C by GE bulbs that communicate directly with my Bluetooth-enabled Google Home Hub and my Bluetooth-enabled phone.

So simple? To me, maybe, but not necessarily for product developers who basically have to reinvent the communications wheel for every implementation.

As prevalent as it is in IoT devices, Bluetooth doesn’t have a home automation application layer in its communications stack. Pretty much everyone who uses Bluetooth for smart home devices has to invent their own methods of communicating. My Bluetooth keypad, for example, wouldn’t automatically know that it’s connected to a light bulb and that the light bulb can turn on, turn off, dim, change color temperatures, etc.

Bluetooth is now writing those device definitions and developing a communications scheme through a new Smart Home subgroup of the Bluetooth SIG (special interest group).

The announcement, made at CES on Tuesday, “follows the decision from a growing number of market leaders to adopt Bluetooth mesh networking as a strategic communications protocol for smart home solutions,” according to a statement by the Bluetooth SIG.

From the press release:

The new Smart Home Subgroup has been established to create additional Bluetooth mesh model specifications for smart home and related applications. Mesh models constitute the application layer of Bluetooth mesh networking and define the behavior of devices connected to a Bluetooth mesh network.  For example, mesh models define how a Bluetooth mesh light is controlled by a Bluetooth mesh switch.  Like all Bluetooth technology specifications, the mesh models developed by this subgroup will be available to all member companies for use in conjunction with the Bluetooth mesh networking specifications, thereby enabling multi-vendor interoperability in the smart home.

Bluetooth as a home automation standard? This move could get the ubiquitous wireless technology very close to that goal. It’s a very big deal.

“Never before has a group of companies taken seriously the idea of using Bluetooth Mesh for smart home applications,” says Avi Rosenthal, a principal of the consulting firm CE/IoT Partners. “Although there are companies out there using Bluetooth for home automation, this is the first time that a group of companies is going to sit down and decide on an absolute standard of interoperability.”

And not just any companies. Some big ones, including Alibaba and Xiaomi. The group is chaired by Dapeng Liu, Alibaba’s Senior Standardization Expert.

Can Bluetooth pull it off? Bluetooth Mesh is not terribly efficient with power – nothing like ZigBee and Z-Wave, for example.

A question remains: There are plenty of other standards bodies working on application-layer solutions for home automation – ZigBee (Dotdot), Z-Wave, OCF (IoTivity), to name a few. Some of these frameworks have already been layered over Bluetooth. Will the SIG adopt an existing solution?

Check out the full press release from the Bluetooth SIG below.

PRESS RELEASE

Technology Leaders Select Bluetooth Mesh as Strategic Protocol for Smart Home Solutions

Alibaba, Xiaomi, and others join new Bluetooth SIG Smart Home Subgroup established to advance mesh networking for the smart home market

LAS VEGAS – January 8, 2019 – In response to growing adoption of Bluetooth mesh networking in smart home solutions, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) today announced the formation of a new Smart Home Subgroup. The announcement follows the decision from a growing number of market leaders to adopt Bluetooth mesh networking as a strategic communications protocol for smart home solutions.

The new Smart Home Subgroup has been established to create additional Bluetooth mesh model specifications for smart home and related applications. Mesh models constitute the application layer of Bluetooth mesh networking and define the behavior of devices connected to a Bluetooth mesh network.  For example, mesh models define how a Bluetooth mesh light is controlled by a Bluetooth mesh switch.

Like all Bluetooth technology specifications, the mesh models developed by this subgroup will be available to all member companies for use in conjunction with the Bluetooth mesh networking specifications, thereby enabling multi-vendor interoperability in the smart home.

“Bluetooth mesh models play a very important role in strengthening the connectivity and interoperability among smart home devices. The Smart Home Subgroup provides a forum for the community to standardize the mesh model solutions, and Alibaba is happy to be working with other member companies on mesh model development.” said Dapeng Liu, Chair of Bluetooth SIG Smart Home Subgroup, Alibaba’s Senior Standardization Expert.

Over 60 member companies are participating in the new Smart Home Subgroup including Alibaba, GCT Semiconductor, Lierda, Midea Group IoT Company, MediaTek, Nordic Semiconductor, Novel Bits, S-Labs, Telink Semiconductor, Synopsys, UL Verification Services, and Xiaomi.

“In developing our IoT solutions for smart home, we need the reliable, high performing, and scalable connectivity that the Bluetooth mesh wireless standard supports,” said Miffy Chen, VP of Alibaba Group, GM of Tmall Genie. “Those elements, combined with the existing trust and wide application of Bluetooth across the globe, has given it a unique advantage in support of our smart home strategy.”

“For the smart home market to grow, it needs true global wireless mesh networking standards that can meet the reliability, security, and performance needs of the market,” said  Dian Fan,

General Manager of Xiaomi IoT Platform.  “We’re confident that Bluetooth mesh is one of those standards and will enable tremendous growth and innovation in home automation for years to come.”

“Bluetooth mesh is one of most suitable IoT protocols for smart home and building. It facilitates flexible deployment of smart device networks with elastic extension and lower latency, and thus brings better user experiences with rich smart life scenes,” said Mr. Zhiguo Bi, Deputy General Manager of Midea Group IoT Company. “Midea Group is promoting vigorously the Bluetooth mesh based total solution for the smart home.”

Launched in July of 2017, Bluetooth mesh was created to enable the deployment of large scale device networking solutions, such as those used in control, monitoring, and automation systems.   Bluetooth mesh technology was developed from the beginning to meet the strict reliability, security, and performance needs of industrial and commercial markets. Since its launch, over 105 products with Bluetooth mesh networking capability have been qualified from leading silicon, stack, component, and end product vendors (a complete list of Bluetooth mesh qualified products can be found here).

“The release of Bluetooth mesh networking and the recent formation of the Smart Home Subgroup are important milestones in the development of the smart home market,” said Mark Powell, Bluetooth SIG Executive Director. “For over a decade, Bluetooth has been the global wireless standard for the connected home, connecting everything from appliances and entertainment systems to tools, toys, and even toothbrushes.  Now with mesh networking support, Bluetooth is in a position to help the home automation market reach mass scale.”


This article first appeared in SSI sister publication CE Pro.

About the Author

Contact:

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration.

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