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26 February 2015

Bluetooth SIG forms mesh working group at last

As the Bluetooth community looks to dominate the smart home’s short-range connectivity, it has become increasingly urgent that it supports mesh, one of the major advantages which 802.15.4-based rivals like ZigBee, 6LoWPAN and Google-backed Thread boast. The Bluetooth SIG has created a working group to explore a mesh standard, though it will still not have a working profile until next year.

The SIG announced the formation of its Bluetooth Smart Mesh Working Group this week and aims to start prototype testing later this year and to adopt profiles officially in 2016.

There are already Bluetooth mesh technologies out there, notably from UK-based chip designer CSR (soon to be part of Qualcomm), and also from Zuli, but the SIG’s work is necessary to create a standardized approach, for multivendor interoperability, and to ensure backwards compatibility with the Low Energy releases 4.1 and 4.2, and possibly the legacy 4.0 specifications. Standardization will take place in the ‘profile’ – the software definition that sits on top of the core spec. That allows multiple mesh profiles to be developed over time, supporting different use cases and future changes.

Errett Kroeter, senior director of marketing at the standards body, told EETimes that the “smart home is ready to pop”, adding that “a lot of people have been asking the Bluetooth SIG ‘what about mesh?’”

CSR has said that it plans to donate code from its CSRmesh implementation to the effort, though the SIG stressed it will look carefully at all the options and particularly how they interact with devices. A framework has been created for those efforts and about 80 member firms have offered to take part in the working group – the second highest number of volunteers ever, after the core specifications group.

The SIG does not release the names of the participants, but CSR confirmed to EETimes that it was joining. Senior marketing manager Rick Walker said: “Rather than keeping CSRmesh proprietary, CSR is working with the Bluetooth SIG to create a standard profile for Bluetooth Smart mesh.” CSR’s Robin Heydon is chairing the new effort.

This leadership is a primary reason why Qualcomm bid $2.5bn last October to buy CSR. The UK firm has spent years looking for an application where it can be cutting edge again, and has found it in IoT-focused Bluetooth, with leading work on power reduction as well as on meshing. After experimenting with other markets, the smart home has opened the potential for CSR to leverage its unmatchable track record in Bluetooth again, and it has continued to innovate and gather IPR in the standard.

The formation of the Thread Alliance put pressure on Bluetooth to have meshing options, in order to support wider area coverage and larger numbers of devices within a WPAN (wireless personal area network). CSRmesh has been installed in a smart lighting product with Bluetooth 4.0. It does not support full IP communications, but aims for lightweight data transmissions and low power, low cost devices.