New Bluetooth Mesh Networks Could Revolutionize IoT

A graphic depicting how a bluetooth mesh works
Credit: ElectronicDesign

If you don’t know about the concept of mesh networks, don’t worry. While it’s a powerful idea with powerful implications, it has yet to reach its full potential in large scale applications. The people at Bluetooth SIG are ready to change that and the Internet of Things could see huge benefits.

What Is a Mesh Network?

In most networks that you’re probably familiar with, there is a central hub with connections to many nodes. Think of the wi-fi in your house. There is one router sending information to and receiving information from several devices. That router is connected, along with many other routers, directly to the internet service provider. But this type of network has a weakness. What if the lines from your neighborhood’s routers to the service provider get cut? Your neighborhood no longer has access to the internet and there’s no way around it until the lines get fixed. And what happens to the devices in your house if they get too far from your router? They also lose their connection, even if they move into the range of other signals (unless your device is familiar with another network).

Now imagine that every device was both a sender and a receiver of information for any other device. Imagine, for example, that if you were to pick up your laptop and walk out your door, your laptop would seamlessly connect with every wi-fi signal that you walked through. Next, imagine that each laptop, smartphone, or computer in your area was sending and receiving information like the routers. You have arrived at a mesh network.

Why Mesh Networks for Smart Homes and Buildings?

Wi-fi mesh networks have existed for years and have found popularity among groups unserved by internet service providers or trying to avoid them. Bluetooth SIG now wants to harness the power of the concept to make powerfully integrated networks in homes, buildings, and businesses.

The networks would offer some special advantages. First of all, they vastly increase the range of the network. Bluetooth has a fairly short range, but if every device is broadcasting, as long as they aren’t too spread out, they carry the network with them. Secondly, they’re self-healing. If one node in the network is lost, as long as it isn’t connecting two parts of the network which are too distant to communicate, the network will find a new way around the node and carry on without a problem. This also means that they’re decentralized. There isn’t one router responsible for carrying all communication on the network, the network is supported by each node and each node can access every other node.

So how does this apply to the smart home? Imagine that each of the appliances and devices in your home can communicate with any of the others. If your fridge needs to know what the temperature is outside so that it can order your favorite ice cream in the summer, it simply asks the thermostat. The vacuum checks your schedule on your tablet so that it can clean while you’re away. Sensors in the hall turn on your display and switch on your music before you even walk into your office, switching off the light behind you.

The possibilities are powerful. If Bluetooth’s mesh network catches on, the Internet of Things could really come alive.