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Silicon Labs and Toshiba speed development time for Bluetooth mesh networks

Steve Rogerson
July 26, 2017

Silicon Land and Toshiba are two of the first chip companies to announce support for the recently announced Bluetooth mesh specification.
To help developers simplify the design of mesh-networked devices for the IoT and get to market faster, Silicon Labs has introduced a suite of software and hardware that supports the new Bluetooth mesh specification. And Japanese company Toshiba has announced that its line-up of Bluetooth  Low Energy products supports the Bluetooth mesh standard.
The standard was ratified and launched last week by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.
The Silicon Labs suite leverages the company’s mesh networking expertise and includes development tools, a software stack and mobile apps supporting the Texas company’s wireless system-on-chip (SoC) devices and certified modules. The combination of patented network analysis tools and Bluetooth mesh stack for smartphones is claimed to enable IoT developers to cut time to market by up to six months when compared with existing wireless development tools and techniques.
Bluetooth mesh devices are suitable for smart home, lighting, beaconing and asset tracking applications. A mesh network enables devices, such as connected lights, to be deployed at greater distances from a hub or gateway. As each light is deployed, the communications range increases, allowing a single gateway to cover an area larger than one that is simply covered by a star network topology.
In retail marketing and asset tracking applications, Bluetooth mesh technology simplifies the deployment and management of beacons. By combining Bluetooth Low Energy with mesh networking, capabilities and value can be introduced into devices such as connected lights which can also serve as beacons or beacon scanners.
“Bluetooth is the next frontier in mesh networking, and Silicon Labs’ new Bluetooth mesh software and tools keep us at the forefront of this rapidly emerging many-to-many network topology,” said Richard Baxter, president and CEO of Mesh Systems, an IoT software, services provider. “From easy-to-use development kits to mobile applications that help us connect devices seamlessly, we rely on Silicon Labs’ deep expertise in mesh technology to give us the hardware and software resources we need to increase productivity and speed development time so our customers can better compete in today’s IoT race.”
Using Silicon Labs’ suite, designers can choose from a variety of certified wireless modules and SoCs, including the claimed world’s smallest Bluetooth system-in-package (SiP) module (BGM11S) and the EFR32BG13 Blue Gecko SoCs. Modules with integrated antennas provide a fast, cost-effective way to design Bluetooth mesh-enabled products. Blue Gecko SoCs have large memory options to support over-the-air updates, as well as features such as hardware security acceleration, capacitive sensing, low-power sensor interfaces and RF performance.
The mobile application for smartphones allows designers to verify the operation of Bluetooth mesh-based implementations with a commercially supported Bluetooth mesh library and source code to streamline design.
Simplicity Studio software tools include patented network analysis and packet trace technology, energy profiling and visual application configuration. Software compatibility across Silicon Labs’ portfolio of wireless SoCs and modules enables software reuse and reduced development time and cost.
Silicon Labs has shipped more than 100 million mesh networking SoCs and modules to date and has more than 15 years of experience in developing standards-based mesh networking for users worldwide.
“We expect to see a wave of new devices hit the market quickly by leveraging ubiquitous Bluetooth connectivity to create hub-less mesh networks that extend the range and reliability of Bluetooth systems,” said Daniel Cooley, senior vice president at Silicon Labs. “No matter which mesh technology developers choose to power their next IoT designs, we offer a complete portfolio of silicon and software that gives device makers everything they need to accelerate time to market while designing secure, robust mesh networks.”
The Bluetooth mesh software development tools and software stack are available now free of charge to users with registered Bluetooth mesh development kits from Silicon Labs. Wireless Gecko SoCs, Bluetooth modules and wireless starter kits for Bluetooth mesh applications are available from Silicon Labs and authorised distributors.
The combination of new Bluetooth Mesh standard 1.0 and Toshiba’s application software is said to enable Toshiba Bluetooth Low Energy products to increase communications range, reliability and obstacle penetration capability while also extending battery life.
By combining a non-proprietary mesh with Toshiba Bluetooth communications – which are capable of link budgets exceeding 100dB with external PA and LNA – the technology can provide more reliable communications in consumer products and extend support to rapidly growing segments such as factory automation and building management.
Previously, increasing the effective Bluetooth Low Energy communications range or sending a signal through many walls required higher power transmissions that would have a negative impact on battery life. High-powered transmissions were typically the primary technique used to address issues such as radio interference in a factory environment or the transmission of signals through thick concrete walls. This approach had severe limitations, and has proven to be ineffective for power-constrained battery operated devices as well as in unfriendly RF environments.
Support for the Bluetooth Mesh standard 1.0 now enables products to relay messages privately and securely via a mesh network rather than requiring a point-to-point connection between devices. This increases the range and reliability of Bluetooth Low Energy communications without increasing power requirements.
“As a Bluetooth SIG founder and current board member, Toshiba is excited to be among the first to support the organisation’s push to increase the effective range and robustness of Bluetooth through the introduction of a highly reliable mesh network,” said Heiner Tendyck, System LSI marketing manager at Toshiba Electronics Europe. “This standards-based approach means that new untapped markets, such as industrial and commercial, can now leverage ever-present Bluetooth cell phones or tablets to easily control and monitor their systems.”
With Bluetooth Low Energy, Toshiba says it can deliver an increase in communications range and signal strength to deliver communications that exceed a 300m open-air range at low-power transmit and receive power levels.
Teledyne LeCroy has introduced the Bluetooth Protocol Expert System software module, enabling accelerated development of Bluetooth devices and speeding development and troubleshooting of device interoperability in the IoT. The module presents errors, warnings and violations impacting Bluetooth communications. Those violations are referenced directly back to the relevant sections of the Bluetooth specification, allowing quick identification, understanding and resolution of complex issues.