Bluetooth is one of those smartphone features that's been around for so very long, and is nothing short of ubiquitous on modern handsets, that it's easy to take for granted. And while the protocol's become a bit of an underrated workhorse, we continue to see Bluetooth evolve over the years, picking up high-quality audio support and a low-energy mode that drastically extended accessory battery life as a couple stand-out examples. Last week we got word that Bluetooth's next chapter was right around the corner, with news that Bluetooth 5 was just about to introduce expanded beacon support, higher speeds, and a significantly improved range. Today this next-gen Bluetooth standard gets its official announcement.
Just as promised, Bluetooth 5 is designed to greatly improve data speeds and effective range of operation. Compared to the existing Bluetooth 4.2, Bluetooth 5 should offer users four times the range, as well as double the connection speeds for their mobile accessories.
Those are both pretty easy-to-grasp improvements: we're taking the Bluetooth we have now, and making it faster and longer-range. But another big change for Bluetooth 5 concerns a use case that few of us jump to when thinking about Bluetooth, as the new version will improve broadcast capacity for what are known as “connectionless” Bluetooth devices – things like stationary beacons that provide information on businesses or attractions in the immediate vicinity. With Bluetooth 5, those broadcasts will be able to transfer eight times the data they can now.
That ability to deliver so much more data is envisioned as helping to finally jump-start deployment of such Bluetooth beacons. And with potential use cases ranging from navigation to inventory control, there are plenty of industries that could be interested in embracing the tech.
The full Bluetooth 5 standard will be released either late this year or in the early months of 2017. Devices supporting the protocol will presumably follow later still, but right now it's far too early to guess at anything in terms of an ETA. That said, we'll be keeping an eye out at upcoming trade shows for our first glimpses at hardware ready to take advantage of all these Bluetooth 5 improvements.