Hey, gang! How’s it going? We’ll cover Bluetooth 5 in a second, but for those of you who haven’t come by in a few days, we had an intense week covering this year’s Hannover Messe! I really hope all the content we shared brought you insights about new products, tech trends, and the future of the industry. This was our first live feed, and we gave our best to it!
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) was a hot topic at Hannover Messe 2017, along with smart devices and Industry 4.0. Most companies presented solutions to take your plant to the next level in performance, reliability, and energy management.
They also offered different ways to deliver data to cloud platforms. Some companies push the idea of pulling all IIoT solutions out of the traditional control system. For that, you’d have things like gateways, wireless or Ethernet protocols, and conversion to OPC UA, for example.
However, other companies showed control systems that you connect to the cloud, like Beckhoff’s system to Microsoft Azure. We also have devices with wifi and integrated web servers. You can choose the way that suits your needs best.
Bluetooth and automation
And now we have field devices with Bluetooth built right in so you can set up with your smartphone or tablet. No more buying specific handhelds – just download the app and go.
On the down side, you have the drawbacks of limited range, data quantity, and connectivity. Still, it’s nice to see this kind of advance in our industry, and it’ll only get better from here. In fact, the recently launched Bluetooth 5 may hold the key to wireless connectivity in automation.
“Rollin’ in my 5.0…”
Sorry, couldn’t resist! (Even though they’re calling the new one just “5” for marketing reasons.) Yep, the newest version has officially hit the market with some spectacular advantages. I decided to write about Bluetooth 5 in the automation world as soon as I saw the new Galaxy S8, the first smartphone to have 5 built in.
The new protocol has good features to make it the next standard to setting up field devices the smart way. For example, HART modems with Bluetooth have issues related to data transfer velocity and connection with field devices. Maybe the game can change now! Of course, that may become a moot point. I believe field communicators will inevitably cede the field to tablets.
2 times faster with less energy
Anyway, Bluetooth 5 increases your bandwidth up to 2 megabits per second. That means you can move twice as much data, reducing transfer time and accelerating updates. Furthermore, the protocol uses so little energy that it barely brushes your battery.
4 times more range
Distance remains an important feature when we discuss industry applications. The last version offered up to 50 meters in open areas, but only 10 indoors. Bluetooth 5’s range gives you 40 meters indoors and up to 200 in open areas. Sounds good, but it has a catch.
If you want that range, then you have to decrease your bandwidth. Yeah, it sucks to have to choose. Of course, some applications don’t need that much range or bandwidth. Still, let’s hope Bluetooth 6 will give us the best of both worlds.
8 times more broadcasting
Bluetooth 5 works more efficiently with channels in 2.4 gigahertz bands, too. Now you have up to 37 broadcasting channels, hence more frequency diversity.
Also, you have larger packets, from 31 to 255 octets. What does that mean? More data transfer, of course. Marques Brownlee made a good analogy for it on his YouTube channel. Before, you had two hallways to send and receive data at the same time. Now, Bluetooth 5 gives you 30 hallways.
Interference detection and prevention
While Bluetooth can co-exist with other wireless devices, you always need to avoid interference on the signal. A function called Slot Availability Mask (SAM) detects potential interference and moves away from those channels. Because devices in our industry are open to a wide range of interference, 5 can boost connectivity and avoid packet loss.
Bluetooth 5 blows out the horizons on industrial applications in the IIoT era. However, we have other protocols coming, like wifi. Let’s wait and see how the next chapter unfolds.