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Bluetooth 5: Great for smart home tech, but not for music lovers

The new improved wireless standard arrives next year offering twice the speed and quadruple the range

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has officially adopted Bluetooth 5, a new version of the wireless standard we all use in many of our internet-connected gadgets. This includes big improvements to its fundamental performance: Bluetooth 5 promises twice the speed, four times the range, and capacity for eight times the amount of data that can be sent in a broadcast message, all while using less power.

The organisation says that Bluetooth 5 will start appearing in devices in the next two to six months, that’s to say just in time for the next wave of smartphone releases. But it’s the connected home that will really benefit from the new wireless standard. According to the SIG’s official release, “Bluetooth continues to embrace technological advancements and push the unlimited potential of the IoT [short for ‘Internet of Things’].” In particular, the increased range of Bluetooth 5 means it will now cover your entire house – ideal for when you want to turn off the smart light bulbs that you left on in your bedroom when you’re downstairs.

Increased range plus a commitment to Bluetooth ‘coexisting’ with other wireless technologies, principally Wi-Fi and LTE (also known as 4G) means that it will have ‘new use cases for outdoors.’ As well as spreading your smart home to your garden to remote control your sprinklers, this could also have implications for flying your drones. But we will have to wait and see how the technology evolves.

Despite Apple jacking in the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 (and many Android phone makers doing the same thing), Bluetooth 5 doesn’t include any improvements to wireless audio quality. That’s because Bluetooth 5 is an improvement on today’s Bluetooth LE, a low energy version that shouldn’t suck your phone’s battery dry. Meanwhile Bluetooth audio uses, you’ve guessed it, a high-energy version. Music lovers will have to wait until 2018 for the organisation to deal with issues like how long it takes for music to start to play, reduced sound quality due file compression and, of course, the aforementioned power drain.

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