Basics of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

BLE (originally introduced as Bluetooth Smart) is an extension to the Bluetooth 4 standard. It is important to understand that BLE does not replace Bluetooth, but instead it enhances Bluetooth. Bluetooth was defined under the IEEE 802.15 specification. 802.15 defines personal area networks for users and their devices. We commonly use Bluetooth for things like connecting your phone to your automobile or your iPod to an external speaker.

The most significant aspect of BLE is the “LE” which stands for Low-energy. Batteries for BLE are a fraction of the size of existing batteries used for Bluetooth devices. BLE devices only need small chunks of data for instance a watch connecting to your phone or exercise machine. BLE will be used for remote controls such as placing a BLE radio in your cell phone, which can be used to open hotel room doors. BLE is also revolutionizing the medical industry. The first applications are already revolutionizing healthcare management: monitoring information about blood pressure / heart rate, as well maintaining electronic medical records for patients.

Technologists are optimistic that BLE will replace legacy near-field communications (NFC) devices for some of the existing uses like identifying users at a chokepoint, remote control functions and locationing. Locationing is an area that promises to be very exciting. Indoor positioning which is similar to Global Positioning System (GPS), but more granular and on a smaller scale. Indoor positioning also continues where GPS leaves off as GPS signals do not typically penetrate buildings. explains how Organizations use BLE to enhance their customers’ experience.

  • Museums can deliver location-based narrations supported by a map of a venue to visitors, thus providing navigation and interactive learning.
  • In retail, indoor positioning systems can be used for location-based advertising, navigation and delivery of other location-based content to customers.
  • Airports and even hospitals could benefit by location-based data including turn-by-turn navigation.

Proprietary software can be used by organizations to manage their content, beacons, and venue maps. Sometimes the software is a hosted software service and keeps track of every piece of content in the app which visitors or customers use. A fully functional web interface is beneficial for organizations, because it gives them a complete control over the content that the users will see. Software can also provide analytical reports. For example how the visitor traverses through the venue and how much time they spend at the specific locations.

For the propeller heads, we will end with some of the technical details of BLE. Theoretically, BLE can transmit at data rates of 1 Mbps. However, realistic, repeatable throughput will be between 5 and 10 Kbps. BLE can communicate at distances up to 30 meters, but again this is not a practical expectation. 2 – 5 Meters is a realistic expectation. BLE uses two types of packets (Advertising Packets and Scan Response Data). Last remember that placement of BLE devices effects the efficacy of the system as well as battery life. The further BLE devices need to communicate the more battery will drain.

This author believes that BLE will revolutionize many industries. In healthcare, it will make the experience safer for patients and more enjoyable for patients and guests alike. In hospitality the guests experience will be improved, will push advertising, and offers customization to the individual guest. In retail, customers will enjoy the benefits of BLE and security will benefit from the data that is provided and analyzed. I look forward to seeing BLE implemented more and more.

John Busso

Author Bio: John Busso is a Senior Network Engineer/Mobility Specialist at CCSI. He has almost 20 years experience providing secure voice and data solutions. John has been a Subject Matter Expert for Enterprise Mobile Solutions such as Guest WiFi and BYOD, providing vision for diverse clients.

John has been an Adjunct Professor and trainer. He holds numerous Industry certifications, including CISSP CWNP, CCNP, ACMP and ITIL. His experience includes working with retail, TNL-Couriers, DC’s and Airports, Healthcare, Education, DOD, Local Government, Financial, Non-Profit-Public WiFi, Entertainment and Hospitality industries. His expertise is in mobility, security, WLAN, WAN, LAN, VoWiFi, RFID, RTLS, WIPS, WIDS, DAS, licensed/unlicensed PTP and PTMP networks. Connect with John on Twitter via @JohnBusso.

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