"Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology means the Internet of Things is starting to become a reality"

Bluetooth and the Internet of Things


David Hitchcock

Head of UK & EMEA Building Consultancy

First talked about more than fifteen years ago, the Internet of Things theorised that objects and people would connect wirelessly. From the outset Bluetooth handled the communication between devices, so manufacturers built hub devices like PCs, smartphones, cars and tablets to take advantage of this technology. 

However, conventional Bluetooth had limitations. It required a continuous streamed connection, drew a reasonable amount of power and was only effective within a short range. As a result, the spread of applications and devices was limited; typically it was used mostly in cars and mobile phones for hands free telephony.

Low Energy Bluetooth
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) consumes only a fraction of the power of classic Bluetooth. It's called low-energy because it really is. BLE devices are capable of running for more than five years on a single, coin sized battery depending on the signal strength and how frequently information is broadcast.

BLE devices are secure and robust. They don’t require continuous connectivity, so they can sleep. They work at a range up to 100m and have the power to transfer data at up to 1Mbps. In something small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

The Internet of Things and You
BLE technology means the Internet of Things is starting to become a reality.

Wake up in the morning and go for a run. You’re wearing a heart rate monitor that speaks wirelessly to your smart watch. You brush your teeth with a toothbrush that monitors your daily health and sends the data to a spreadsheet on your laptop.  At the same time you’ll be listening to music through your showerhead downloaded to your phone. You keep your back straight and protect your computer with sensors at your desk. You watch your kids play football with a "smart" ball and soccer boots.

Commercial Applications for Real Estate
The use of this technology is gathering pace in real estate through the development of Bluetooth beacons. Essentially, small super computers with bi-directional BLE, they can be the size of half an egg with a coin sized battery lasting for 5 years.

From fixed locations they broadcast their presence to other enabled devices, like smartphones, as close as 2cm or up to a distance of 100m away.

Devices detect the Bluetooth radio signal (without previous pairing) and estimate their distance to and from it by measuring the signal strength. Data from more than one beacon triangulates relative location.

The micro-location gives the beacons immediate context to display a variety of different actions on users’ phones or tablets. Standing in front of Gap, your phone might display this week’s offers and send you a discount voucher.  It might tell you which restaurant your friends are sitting in nearby, and list today’s specials.  Even if the phone is locked or the app is not running the system remains active.

Since beacons broadcast only a tiny amount of information, the relevant content is downloaded from a local database or cloud-based storage.

Practical applications for the workplace are developing rapidly too. These will be used for space optimisation and desk use, way finding and as a design tool,  tracking people flow though buildings and urban settings.  The technology has potential for managing physical security and follow-me printing. [Read our related article]

The biggest growth is expected in retail and exhibition space. Being able to track customers, issue welcome notifications, push information, measure footfall and people movement offers the chance to improve the experience for the visitor and optimise the commercial opportunities for the retailer.

CBRE is currently designing a system based on this technology for the new Connected Digital Economy Catapult building in Euston Road which will be used to manage staff and visitor access, track visitors through the exhibition space and monitor exhibit interest and push information, all in the interests of fine tuning exhibitions and maintaining communication with clients.

Link to Q3 newsletter homepage

More articles

How Digital Technology is Changing the Workplace

Getting Ready for Broadband


Managing Power Demands in Data Centres