Bluetooth 5 features – What is Bluetooth 5.0?

Bluetooth 5.0 is one of the latest versions of this standard and has become quite popular since its launch in 2017. We will review what features it integrates and why you should use devices compatible with this technology. Let’s start!

What exactly is Bluetooth 5.0 and what is its purpose?

We all know what the Bluetooth standard is, but it’s important to clarify in detail about its importance and why it’s so common in all kinds of devices. So before we jump into Bluetooth 5.0 news, let’s review its general definition, purpose, and most common uses.

Bluetooth is a low-range wireless communication protocol designed to exchange information between fixed or mobile devices over relatively short distances, which in most cases can be less than 100 meters but can even reach kilometers depending on the specific version and application.

The technology was originally invented by Ericsson, but there is now an organization called the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), which is dedicated to developing all versions of Bluetooth and also has full control over the brand. They are not dedicated to manufacturing devices that use or control Bluetooth, but control who can use this technology:

  • Use of the Bluetooth trademark or logo on a device requires the company to be a member of the Bluetooth SIG. Membership is free, so BT can be on any device today.
  • On the other hand, there are associate members who get great benefits and decision power in exchange for paying additional membership to the Bluetooth SIG.

The most common uses for Bluetooth are audio (headphones and speakers), wearables (smart bracelets and others), Internet of Things devices (anything we can think of), direct data communication between devices, peripherals for wireless computers, and much more. All of this is due to the versatility of the technology and the ease of adoption, so it’s crucial to see what different versions of the standard can do.

Bluetooth is everywhere. It’s hard to talk about all that can be done with Bluetooth because it’s ubiquitous, both for devices that need to work and communicate, and for those that support its use to connect to any device.

An overview of the evolution of Bluetooth from 2.0 to 5.0

We also need to briefly review how Bluetooth has evolved since it first appeared in 1999. The first major evolution came with version 2.0, which was released in 2004 and can reach a peak transfer rate of 2.1 Mbps. Not bad for that period. This is growing year-over-year, with 3.0Mbps (Bluetooth 2.1) in 2007 and 24Mbps (Bluetooth 3.0) in 2009.

With version 4.0 released in 2010 came major innovations consisting of distinguishing between high-speed Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy or LE, an entirely new protocol designed for faster connectivity and requiring lower energy consumption.

All this maintains a similar communication range, but affects possible transmission speeds. Of course, if we are talking about a very small device, we are more interested in low consumption, since large volumes of data will not be transmitted.

Gradually, more significant improvements were coming with Bluetooth 4.1 (2013), a software update, not a hardware update, which included the possibility of co-existence with 4G LTE, improvements in audio architectures, etc. led to important news such as

In 2014, Bluetooth 4.2 expanded the already wide possibilities for IoT devices with improvements in communication security.

And finally, after all these improvements to the standard, we come to Bluetooth 5.0.

Bluetooth 5.0: all improvements and news

This version of Bluetooth was officially announced at the end of 2016, specifically on December 6 of that year, so we started seeing it on devices from 2017 and the same version is still used in many devices today.

Bluetooth LE enhancements

One of the big improvements in this version is the ability to use Bluetooth LE on headphones. And in previous versions, LE was designed for wearables and very basic devices, not headsets that require a lot of transfer speed. So we managed to improve the battery of all these headphones.

Bluetooth LE enhancements aren’t aimed at just using it in headphones. Instead, it aims to broaden its overall use beyond small IoT devices.

Sound for two devices at the same time

We continue to improve focusing on audio products. In this case, we are talking about the possibility of having two audio devices connected at the same time and playing the same thing on them.

For example, if we have two Bluetooth speakers, we can play exactly the same thing on both, just with our mobile phone. Of course, it depends on the manufacturers to implement it.

Increased range

Fortunately, with the BT 5.0 device, we can reach a much wider range of up to 240 meters in LE mode.

Obviously, in reality it would be a more modest development. For example, the Sony WH-1000XM3 (BT 4.0) headphones have a range of 56 meters (with no obstacles in between), compared to 91m for the XM4 (BT 5.0).

The ability to post more

One of the features of Bluetooth is broadcasts or beacons. A beacon (actually the correct translation is pointer, pointer) allows you to transmit information to all nearby devices without first establishing a connection.

That is, we can place a device that broadcasts a message to any nearby Bluetooth device. These pointers can now transmit up to 279 bytes of data.

What is it used for? For many things, such as providing information at airports or giving directions to the blind. In the latter case, they would be notified when they were connected to different lighthouses via proximity.

Some very good improvements with backward compatibility

In short, what we’re seeing here is a significant improvement over Bluetooth 4.0, which leaves us wanting a compatible device whenever possible.

You can also connect a Bluetooth 5.0 device to a computer that supports 4.0. You just lose the benefits of BT 5.0. You can also connect a Bluetooth 4.0 device to a computer that supports 5.0.

Advances in Bluetooth 5.0

The SIG organization has released several evolutions of Bluetooth 5.0 consisting of minor standard increments such as versions 5.1 and 5.2. Let’s see them.

Bluetooth 5.1: new location features between devices

The big novelty of this version, introduced at the beginning of 2019, has to do with the location of the devices. Specifically, when there are several devices connected to each other, it will be possible to know the location of each in the sense that we know how far apart they are from each other with centimeter accuracy. This could already be known with Bluetooth 5.0, only the difference in sensitivity was a few meters.

What this allows is an improvement in device location systems, such as what they might be in a factory. But nowadays we can also see great developments for personal devices: Think of the wearable devices that many people use to unlock their cell phone (with Google Smart Lock technologies). Version 5.1 allows to know exactly if the person is carrying this wearable device nearby.

Bluetooth 5.2: big improvements in energy consumption

A few months later, especially at the end of 2019, Bluetooth 5.2 was introduced, where improvements were focused on the LE mode. The biggest optimization is in simultaneous connection of several Bluetooth LE devices. Not only is it more secure, but the signal integrity has been improved while consumption has been drastically reduced.

Bluetooth 5.3: performance improvements

The Bluetooth 5.3 specification is also in development! Slowly the technology is advancing and in this case we are seeing even more improvements in latency, less interference, less energy consumption and more security.

Bluetooth 5.3 also comes with new connectivity sublayer that allows a device to update/switch from low duty cycle mode to a higher bandwidth mode with minimal delay. This is said to provide a better user experience as well as preserving the power saving features of low duty cycle connections.

While the Bluetooth 5.3 specification may not seem like a huge leap forward, these enhancements are significant additions to improve device performance, user experience and of course power consumption.