What Apple users need to know about Bluetooth Mesh

Bluetooth Mesh offers a big improvement for home and industrial IoT. Here's what Apple users need to know about the new standard.

Apple, iOS,HomeKit, Bluetooth, Bluetooth Mesh, Internet of Things
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Apple is a Promoter member of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (Bluetooth SIG). It has a seat on the board and participates in working groups, so the newly introduced Bluetooth Mesh standard should be of interest to any Apple watcher.

What is Bluetooth Mesh?

This is a newly introduced Bluetooth technology that enables many devices to talk to each other. It has been developed with the needs of large device networks in mind, so you should see it emerge in building automation, sensor networks and IoT deployments in which up to thousands of devices need to work together.

What sort of IoT deployments?

Think about hospitals with automated lighting, door entry, security and asset tracking systems. Think about factories with complex elements all of which must "speak" to a central server. Think about schools that may use smart lighting, connected whiteboards and mobile devices. It also makes sense to think of smaller IoT deployments: printers, scanners, lighting and thermostat devices, or security alarms in homes and small offices.

What does Bluetooth Mesh do?

Bluetooth Mesh allows all these devices to communicate. Because it’s a mesh network, it also extends the range of low energy Bluetooth connections. And because it uses a technology called "managed flood," it is able to handle the relentless demands of tens of thousands of devices.

Does Bluetooth Mesh replace WI-Fi?

No. Its throughput of 1 megabit/second means it is not a Wi-Fi replacement, but it does get IoT traffic off of your data network and into its own Bluetooth environment.

What is Apple’s involvement?

Apple’s name isn’t cited in any of the literature announcing the new standard. There are hundreds of firms in the Bluetooth SIG, but only Ericsson, Intel, Lenovo, Microsoft, Nokia, Toshiba, IBM and Apple are Promoter members. This status means they have a seat on the Board and are involved in developing and maintaining the standard. Apple’s status within the organization means it is very likely the company has had some involvement in development.

Where might Apple use Bluetooth Mesh?

With its focus on connected devices, the addition of support for Bluetooth Mesh seems to be a shoe-in for HomeKit. This may mean HomeKit device manufacturers will need to support it in order to carry the "Made for HomeKit" kitemark. If that is the case, then it seems highly probable you’ll see support for this technology appear in future Apple devices.

Will there be an upgrade?

Support for Bluetooth Mesh can be added to any existing hardware that supports Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth 5.0. That means older Apple products (approximately pre-2011) will not support it.

“Mesh networking operates on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and is compatible with core specification version 4.0 and higher. Only products designed to be upgradable can be enhanced in the field to support mesh networking,” the standard Bluetooth Mesh FAQ says.

Apple products from around 2011 support 4.0, but it is not known which of these may potentially be upgradeable to Bluetooth Mesh, or if Apple will choose to use it—though its involvement in the standards organization makes this more likely.

How much difference will Bluetooth Mesh make?

Bluetooth Mesh should have quite a good impact on smart home tech, such as HomeKit. It will have a bigger impact on enterprise IT, including on iOS-based industrial and enterprise deployments. You should also see it nurture more widespread use of Beacon technologies.

When can we expect products to appear?

The Bluetooth SIG seems to expect the first products to use its new technology to appear within six months.

Is Bluetooth Mesh secure?

The standard uses 128-bit AES encryption for each link between devices. That’s a good thing, as not only is the mesh capable of healing itself (for example, if a device goes offline), but it is also quite resolute against attack. It is even capable of propagating new security keys—so if a device is removed from the network and then reactivated, it won’t be able to automatically get back online unless given specific permission. This should help you keep yourselves safe in the Internet of Things.

More information

Take a look at the Bluetooth Mesh Networking FAQ.

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