I have had more than one non-technical person ask me about the Internet of Things. One question that I have gotten more than once is, they say something like, “The Internet of Things, that’s like when your phone connects to your speakers with Bluetooth, right?” I have to explain that Bluetooth®, and Bluetooth mesh, like the Internet of Things, lets electronic devices talk to each other, but unlike the Internet of Things, Bluetooth doesn’t use the Internet to do it. Bluetooth is a technology for transferring data wirelessly over short distances with both fixed and mobile devices.
However, Bluetooth by itself does not necessarily connect to the Internet. To further complicate things, the recently released Bluetooth Mesh standard now supports mesh networking with many-to-many device communications. In effect, Bluetooth Mesh allows the scaling up of Bluetooth to an industrial scale. Again, this now works within private networks, but it still does not directly connect to the Internet.
A perfect example of this distinction is Eaton’s new Bluetooth mesh enabled Halo Home lighting system. The system can be controlled and managed via Bluetooth, however, you have to be at home to use it. This limitation is where the inherent short distances of Bluetooth come into play.
Bluetooth Mesh Works for Wireless Sensor Networks, Asset Tracking, and Building Automation
Bluetooth mesh enables networks of wireless sensors, asset tracking, and building automation. And contrary to popular belief, Bluetooth mesh can work with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of wireless devices at once.
If on the other hand, you want to control the system while you are outside of the house or out of Bluetooth’s required short range, you would need to use WiFi. Also, WiFi usually requires additional hardware to work. In this case, the system needs an optional WiFi Access Bridge.
Many others have come out with Bluetooth-based controls. By itself, Bluetooth technology does not allow control and monitoring when you are away from home or out of range. However, usually, additional hardware is required to allow Intenet access.
Bluetooth can also be used for indoor location-based services such as finding products within a store. This application blurs the line between Bluetooth technology and the Internet of Things because the apps give people access to both a cloud-based inventory database and indoor location mapping technology combined. However, again, Bluetooth technology alone, does not make it work. It also requires WiFi connectivity.
One company seems to be blurring the distinction between Bluetooth and IoT, Silvair. Silvair has introduced a Bluetooth mesh-enabled commissioning platform that uses a web-based mobile app. Also, the company is partnering with numerous companies to bring Bluetooth Mesh-enabled products and components to market. (Ref. Coverage). Maybe this bluring the lines between Bluetooth and IoT is a good thing, and it lets lighting designers worry about other things?
For now, however, a more accurate explanation would be, “No, Bluetooth and Bluetooth Mesh are not the Internet of Things, but companies often compliment Bluetooth Technology with the Internet of Things to vastly increase the range and applications other capabilities that Bluetooth cannot do by itself.”