Seven reasons why Bluetooth is perfect for Industrial IoT

22nd May 2019
Anna Flockett

Most of us use Bluetooth on a daily basis in some form, usually to connect things like our phones, smartwatches, headsets, mice, and keyboards. In fact, Bluetooth is now so widespread that the Special Interest Group (SIG) , which monitors the standards, has forecast an incredible 5.2 billion deliveries of Bluetooth devices by 2022. With all the buzz about Bluetooth in the consumer segment, the fact that it is incredibly well-suited for smart, industrial use is paying less attention. 

Here u-blox wanted to emphasize this and have therefore put together seven reasons why designers of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) systems should consider Bluetooth as their communication backbone.

1. It is extremely immune to interference
Bluetooth has smart ways to ensure that messages successfully reach their destination, even though it uses the high-traffic 2.4GHz ISM band (which shares with WiFi, ZigBee, and others).

Adaptive Frequency Hopping (AFH) helps ensure that data passes successfully through the disturbing noise. Individual messages are broken down into small data packets which are sent via different channels in a predefined order known only to the transceivers. Up to 1,600 channel switches can occur every second. Data packets that do not reach their destination are resent, and if the problem is caused by the channel, it will be flagged to prevent it from happening in the future.

2. You can operate many wireless devices in the same area
Several Bluetooth features are combined to ensure that you can run a large number of devices next to each other. For the short data packets - suitable for industrial measurement and control applications - only short radio links are needed. It is equally important that Bluetooth's automatic power control ensures that the data is transmitted in the required strength so that, with little disruption, there are no excessive transmissions. Both factors help to release the radio frequencies for other devices. Finally - and essential for the use of IIoT - Bluetooth is optimised to coexist with Wi-Fi.

3. It can detect and correct bit errors
In environments with interfering signals or when transmitting data over long distances (more on this below), there is a risk of bit errors entering the messages. Bluetooth can detect these and take action to prevent unreliable channels if they are the cause.

It can also use the so-called ‘Forward Error Correction’ (FEC) to fix errors as soon as data arrives at the receiver.

4. Bluetooth can be integrated into existing industrial systems
Serial interfaces are widely used in industrial applications. And thanks to the Serial Port Profile (SPP), Bluetooth fits into your existing designs. SPP emulates a full serial port, complete with hardware handshaking via Bluetooth. This allows you to replace a serial cable with a Bluetooth wireless connection, either with multi-point or point-to-point operation.

5. The range is greater than you might think
Perhaps influenced by their experience with Bluetooth in the consumer goods segment, many assume that the technology will only work at ranges up to a few meters. But Bluetooth can actually operate over much longer distances, even in harsh, industrial conditions. And the latest Bluetooth 5 standard supports the long-distance mode, with which we have so far transmitted messages up to 1.7km. Mesh networks, where data is transferred from node to node until it reaches its destination, can also help increase reach, especially in high-density environments.

6. You can use it anywhere you go
The Bluetooth standard is global, meaning you can use the same device anywhere in the world-without having to deploy different components to industrial equipment in different markets. And another advantage: Because it's so common on smartphones and other handheld devices, you can interact with the Bluetooth-enabled IIoT device through devices you probably already own.

7. Security is already integrated
Three inherent features of Bluetooth make it a highly secure wireless data exchange option. First, the adaptive frequency hopping already mentioned sees the sender sending data on a pseudorandom sequence of channels. Only the transmitter and the receiver know the channels. So if someone tried to intercept the message, they would have to listen to all the channels and then try to put together the right data packets to get the full message.

Second, devices with Bluetooth 4.2 or higher use a coupling mechanism that prevents data from being intercepted during man-in-the-middle attacks during transmission (LE Secure Connections).

And third, Bluetooth devices can be set as ‘invisible’. This means that hackers do not really know they exist. Connections are then only possible between devices that were previously paired.

An Incredible Evolution
The fact that Bluetooth is such an integral part of IoT is testament to the evolution of technology over the last 20 years. What was originally a means of synchronising data between mobile phones has been continually evolving to meet new needs, including in IIoT. And that's why many today are choosing this technology to support their next-generation, intelligent, industrial facilities. Are you there too?

Learn more about Bluetooth at u-blox.

Guest blog written by Pelle Svensson, Senior Principal Product Strategy, Product Strategy Short Range Radio, u-blox.

Courtesy of u-blox.

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