Advanced Bluetooth on Android

Martin Woolley of the Bluetooth SIG was a recent speaker at Droidcon EMEA where he spoke about Advanced Bluetooth for Android Developers (slides).

Android Bluetooth LE Stack

Martin covered scanning, GATT, how to maximise data rates, speed vs reliability and using different PHY for enhanced range or data rates. The second part of the talk covers Bluetooth Mesh and proxy nodes.

One thing not mentioned in the slides, to be careful of, is that connection via a proxy node is relatively slow because it’s limited by the GATT connection. Proxy nodes are good for controlling (sending small amounts of data into) a Bluetooth Mesh but poor if you want to use the connected Android device as a gateway for all outgoing data.

Martin also has a blog where you can also learn about his past talks and he will be part of the new Bluetooth Developer Meetup.

Read about Beacons and the Bluetooth Mesh

Bluetooth Developer Meetup

There’s a new (virtual) Bluetooth Developer Meetup group.

Developers will share their knowledge and tell their stories of working with everybody’s favourite low power wireless communication technology

The first event will be on 15th October 2020 at 17:30 UK time (UTC+1) and will include the following speakers:

  • Jacky Cheung, Google
  • Kevin Picchi, Samsung
  • Thea Aldrich, Foundries IO
  • Martin Woolley, Bluetooth SIG

Bluetooth Market Update

The Bluetooth SIG has recently released a 2020 Bluetooth® Market Update identifying new trends and forecasts from ABI Research and other analyst firms.

The use of Bluetooth for location is expected to achieve 32% compound annual growth (CAGR):

Obviously, these and other numbers in the report were analysed prior to the coronavirus crisis.

For Bluetooth Mesh, 90% of end-product Bluetooth® mesh qualifications are lighting focused. As with the introduction of iBeacon, which initially focused on marketing messages, the wider capabilities and opportunities are initially not being fully exploited. Part of the problem is that the standard models that come with Bluetooth Mesh are more lighting focused because the standard was driven by individuals from the lighting industry. Custom models, such used by our SensorMesh™, are possible but take more effort.

Concurrent Transmission (CT) Bluetooth

There’s new research BlueFlood: Concurrent Transmissions for Multi-Hop
Bluetooth 5 — Modeling and Evaluation
(pdf) that looks into using concurrent transmissions (CT) with Bluetooth.

Today’s Bluetooth devices use advertising, GATT connection and mesh. Advertising occurs over three channels to reduce the affects of wireless interference. When more than one device advertises at the same time, the data is lost. However, advertising takes of the order of 1ms so the chance of collision is usually small.

In contrast, BlueFlood uses concurrent transmissions (CT) that purposely synchronise transmissions such that if colliding packets are tightly synchronised and have the same contents, the resulting signal might be distorted, but highly probable that they do not destruct each other. This is used with the Glossy flooding protocol and 40 rather than 3 advertising channels.

CT-based protocols achieve enormous performance gains in terms of end-to-end reliability, latency and energy consumption even under harsh interference conditions

Concurrent transmissions are challenging using Bluetooth because transmissions need to be synchronised down to 250ns. Nevertheless, the researchers show this is possible using standard Bluetooth PHY and commercial Nordic SoCs. They achieved an end-to-end loss rate below 1% and managed to receive the signals on a standard smartphone. While the mechanism was fragile it was found to be viable.

Low Power Bluetooth Advertising Chip Without SoC

Asahi Kasei Microdevices Corporation has announced the AK1595. As with the previously mentioned AK1594, it works without a System on a Chip and provides Bluetooth transmission using very low power.

Instead of setting the advertising via EEPROM programming like the AK1594, the AK1595 is controlled via UART or I2C making it suitable for variable data transmission scenarios.

We expect the AK1595 will be particularly useful for energy harvested applications.

A Push for Bluetooth 5 Long Range

There’s a push by the Bluetooth SIG at the moment, promoting long range Bluetooth that appeared with Bluetooth 5 in June 2016. This is presumably because, to date, there haven’t been many long range end-user products. There aren’t many devices out there because you need Bluetooth 5 hardware at both ends of communication and existing devices can’t be upgraded.

Device manufacturers have been waiting for the ‘device at the other end of the communication’ (beacons, sensors, smartphones, single board computers) to become compatible before creating new products using Bluetooth 5 which is a chicken and egg situation. There are also tradeoffs around backwards compatibility and battery power. It’s more complex to create a device that supports Bluetooth 5 and is backwards compatible with Bluetooth 4. Advertising both at the same time uses more power and hence reduces the battery lifetime.

In order to validate Bluetooth 5’s long range claims, Nordic have a new blog post testing long range. The post gives a good explanation of path loss, outside vs inside and deterioration of the signal due to precipitation, humidity and reflected signals. Nordic also have an older post comparing the range of BLE, ZigBee and Thread Protocols.

Read more about Bluetooth 5

Bluetooth 5 Range Tests

Unseen Tech has a recent whitepaper on Bluetooth 5 range. It describes some tests that were performed to assess Bluetooth 5 to see the improvements in range compared to Bluetooth 4’s typical 30m to 100m. The tests used development boards from Texas Instruments and Nordic that, used outside, achieved about 650m and 750m respectively.

While some companies are claiming Bluetooth 5 support in products, many don’t actually use Bluetooth 5 yet but instead offer an upgrade path to Bluetooth 5. Other’s do offer Bluetooth 5 but downgrade to Bluetooth 4 when communicating with Bluetooth 4 devices (e.g. smartphones) which are still the large majority of devices.

There are also some ultra long range Bluetooth 4 devices that include output power amplifers that can achieve ranges of hundreds of metres and we have one USB powered beacon that reaches up to 4Km.

Bluetooth Range Estimator

The Bluetooth SIG, who create the specifications for Bluetooth, have a new Bluetooth Range Estimator that takes into account the environment, transmit power, antenna gain and received gain to provide an estimated range.

There’s also an associated blog post on 3 Common Myths About Bluetooth.

In terms of beacons, the range usually relates to how they are powered. The beacons with smaller CR2032 batteries tend to be designed for ranges up 50m. Larger CR2477 powered beacons usually reach about 100m. AA battery beacons or those with power amplifers reach hundreds of metres. and some USB beacons can reach up to 4Km. These ranges are outdoors. Indoors, there’s often radio reflections and blocking that reduce range. Beacon orientation can also affect range.

Bluetooth 5 Packet Sniffing

When testing beacons and Bluetooth LE, nRF Connect is usually sufficient. However, if you need deeper analysis of Bluetooth you need to use a packet sniffer.

NCC Group has a new open source sniffer for Bluetooth 5 that also works with Bluetooth 4.x. You need to run the software on a Texas Instruments (TI) CC26x2 board.

The source code and instructions are available on GitHub.