The next frontier in mesh networking

2 min read

At a recent meeting of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) it was announced that Bluetooth technology will now be used to support mesh networking. According to the SIG, mesh capability will enable many-to-many device communications and the creation of much larger scale device networks.

Mark Powell, executive director for Bluetooth SIG, said: “In the same way as the connected device market experienced rapid growth after the introduction of Bluetooth Low Energy, we believe Bluetooth mesh networking will help to play a significant role in helping early stage markets.”

Among those markets, commercial building and factory automation have been identified as major opportunities for the deployment of wireless mesh networking technologies.

The advantages of mesh topologies are considerable; data can be transmitted from different devices simultaneously and the network can support high traffic. Meanwhile, in one component fails, there is always an alternative path to support data transfer and it’s also possible to expand and modify the topology without disrupting other nodes. But deploying and managing these networks is not without challenges; a lot of devices need to be deployed and that can prove to be expensive.

“While that may be true, mesh networks offer much greater reliability and scalability,” said Mikko Savolainen, senior marketing manager with responsibility for Bluetooth at Silicon Labs. “Maintaining and managing can be a challenge though as the network requires continuous supervision.”

Applications for Bluetooth Mesh, according to Savolainen, include home and building automation, beaconing, lighting and asset tracking. “A smart lighting platform, for example, could be built on top of Bluetooth mesh networking to support asset tracking or way-finding services. These value-added capabilities offer a significant opportunity and are part of why we believe Bluetooth is an ideal technology for enabling a mesh network.”

A mesh network enables devices, such as connected lights, to be deployed at greater distances from a hub or gateway. As each light is deployed, the communication range increases, allowing a single gateway to cover an area larger than one that is simply covered by a typical star network topology.

Many see Bluetooth as the next frontier in mesh networking and to coincide with the SIG announcement, Silicon Labs has unveiled a new suite of software and hardware capable of supporting the Bluetooth mesh specification, including: development tools, a software stack, and mobile apps supporting the company’s wireless SoCs and certified modules.

The selection of a mesh networking technology is a critical decision for any developer and will be a make or break factor in the success of a solution.

“Our aim with these new tools is to enable developers to deliver much richer solutions far more quickly,” said Savolainen. “IoT developers will be able to cut time to market by up to six months, when compared to using existing wireless development tools and techniques.”

While the new toolset is intended to help developers bring new solutions to market, Savolainen concluded: “Technology vendors don’t want to have to worry about how the mesh performs – they’re not network engineers – so we are investing time and resources on new tools that will help to better manage the mesh network itself and do so more efficiently.”