Bluetooth Smart, the low-power version of the Bluetooth specification, has gradually evolved into a building block for the Internet of Things (IoT), allowing devices with extremely low power requirements to transmit and receive data over short distances. The Bluetooth SIG—the organization that oversees the development of the Bluetooth standard—recently unveiled several of the IoT features being added to Bluetooth in 2016.

The planned upgrades include improvements in data transmission range and speed (four- and two-fold increases, respectively) without increasing energy consumption. The current version of Bluetooth Smart supports ultra-low peak, average, and idle mode power consumption, allowing Bluetooth devices to run for a month on standard coin-cell batteries, the organization says. The Bluetooth standard can typically transmit data over a distance of 10 m, but has the potential to send information up to 100 m.

The increased responsiveness and lower latency of the updated version is geared specifically toward smart homes, industrial automation, smart infrastructure, and mission-critical devices used in medicine and hospitals. According to the Bluetooth SIG, the new specification will also support mesh networking, allowing Bluetooth devices to connect together in networks covering an entire building or house.

The most recent specification for the Bluetooth standard, Bluetooth v4.2, was released in December 2014 and planted the seed for additional IoT features. In that first raft of updates, the standard became more than two times faster with 10 times greater packet capacity. In addition, Bluetooth Smart devices were given the ability to send and receive messages through a gateway device. To account for the security concerns surrounding the IoT ecosystem, several features were introduced to keep Bluetooth Smart devices from being tracked. FIPS-compliant encryption was added to ensure that data remains confidential.

The Bluetooth SIG maintains a membership of around 25,000 companies, including Lenovo, Intel, Apple, and Microsoft. To ease the transition into the new IoT features, the Bluetooth SIG has said that its Bluetooth Developer Studio and training programs will be updated to support them. More planned features will be revealed in the next few months, the organization noted in an statement. The Bluetooth SIG has not said exactly when the new updates will be available.