Bluetooth Vs Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Why You Must Know the Difference

Bluetooth is the preeminent wireless technology standard used the world over for exchanging data between electronic devices. Bluetooth operates over a band of frequencies ranging from about 2.4 GHz to just below 2.5 GHz. These frequencies are set aside, via international convention, for industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) uses. This band is regulated, but no license is required for use.

This a very crowded, noisy area of the electronic spectrum, especially when one considers that microwave ovens and 4G smartphones also occupy this area. Appropriately, Bluetooth communicates via a technique called spread-spectrum. What that means is that the protocol searches for a clear channel somewhere within the ISM. When one is found, a packet of information – words, text, music or anything else – is transmitted from one Bluetooth device to another, effecting communication.

The Core Differences Between Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy

As the name suggests, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is about effecting Bluetooth communications while using up very little energy. Intuitively, we’d expect BLE’s range of transmission and reception to be shorter than regular Bluetooth, but that isn’t what the main difference between these two protocols is about.

It’s the amount of data that need to be transmitted that determines which protocol is best. The more data that needs to be transmitted; the more battery power needs to be expended to do so.

For example, think of the Bluetooth link between your smartphone and your ear buds. Because smartphones and headset are digital devices, they store words, text and music as a gigantic series of 1’s and 0’s. Transmitting this bit stream takes a fair bit of energy, and it’s the reason why your ear buds must be recharged frequently.

Now think of the Internet-of-things (IoT), which is populated by devices, such as sensors, that only must be read occasionally. Most of the time, these sensors can remain in in “sleep-mode” And, when they wake up, the data stream to be transmitted is short and simple: Is someone walking by the space? Should I turn on the lights?   Just a couple of bits, and then back to sleep.

But, here’s the rub – that IoT devices may located in an area that is either hard for a human to reach or perhaps even dangerous. Unlike you ear buds, recharging that sensor is a serious problem. But remember, that IoT sensor is asleep most of the time, and when it wakes, it does so only momentarily.

That’s why BLE is generally the right choice for IoT devices such as hard to reach LED lighting sensors. It’s also the reason why your smartphone to earbud connection gets by with regular Bluetooth.

Main Benefits of Bluetooth Compliance

Bluetooth, as well as Bluetooth Low Energy, are standards recognized worldwide. Maintained by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, Bluetooth has been adapted by innumerable manufacturers. It is the go-to method used for exchanging data over distances of up to approximately 1,000 feet.

Benefit 1: A Great Way to Connect Wireless Dimming Modules

Bluetooth is a great method for connecting remote devices, such as the SLD-DIM-XG4 from GRE Alpha. A wireless dimming module, this four-channel unit is targeted at applications such as theme parks, and stage lighting. No need to run bulky, troublesome and expensive Ethernet cables, because this device can be effectively controlled from afar thanks to its incorporation of the Bluetooth protocol.

Benefit 2: Convenience

To get the most benefit out of smart lighting, it must be convenient, and that means it has to be controllable from a smartphone or even from a wearable.

That tips the advantage to BLE over Zigbee because most smartphones have the capability to directly access Bluetooth.  Zigbee access is more limited. That means a smart phone would have to communicate to ZigBee modus, which in turn will communicate commands to the lighting module. That means more complexity, more expense and another possible failure point.

The nature of Wi-Fi is to connect to a router. From the router, a pathway needs to be established to the lighting. Again, complexity, expense and another possible point of failure.

The great advantage to Bluetooth Low Energy is that it is ALREADY INSTALLED on all of today’s smartphones. And, GRE Alpha’s SLD-DIM-XG4 was designed with Bluetooth Low Energy in mind. No external intermediary is needed to establish direct, flawless connection and control between the SLD-DIM-XG4

Benefit 3: Meshing

Devices such as the SLD-DIM-XG4 may be employed to affect LED Modules spread over a fairly wide area. Sometimes, the distances involved are too far for BLE. The way around the problem? – meshing! The controller may not be able to reach the furthest BLE Dimming module, but all it must do is reach one of them. Then that wireless dimming module will communicate to those adjacent to it, and those Bluetooth lighting devices will continue the process, in a manner like internet repeaters, until the targeted dimmer is reach and receives the command from the controller.

Meshing offers another great advantage to any wireless system, such as Bluetooth Low Energy, that exploits it. Classic radio network communication is like a lecture hall with a professor and students. The professor transmits knowledge, with each student receives it – hopefully. The student has the opportunity to communicate – but only to the professor. The students cannot communicate with each other.

With meshing, every unit can communicate to every other unit that it is in range of. And most importantly, every unit that receives a message will rebroadcast it. Our students (and our lighting units!) can now communicate with each other. It’s no longer like a bidirectional lecture hall, because with BLE meshing, it’s more like a multidimensional seminar.

BLE establishes what might be called a “self-healing network.” In this manner, if a glitch causes a message to one “student” to be lost or delayed, other students will certainly have received it and retransmitted it. And, those that receive the message retransmit it again, until the intended party receives it.

Benefit 4: Low Energy

Devices running under the Bluetooth protocol require very little energy for communication, and devices such as GRE Alpha’s SLD-DIM-XG4, which run under the BLE protocol, uses less energy still. This high-quality LED driver can stay on standby indefinitely, requiring almost no expenditure of energy, ready to turn on in an instant when the show is ready to start!

Benefit 5: A More Appropriate, Less Expensive Technology

The communications needs of Bluetooth Lighting devices, like the SLD-DIM-XG are relatively modest, and the bit rates, even for complex lighting scenarios, are actually quite light. Not only is BLE less energy intensive than is standard Bluetooth, but the BLE “radios” are less expensive.

Benefit 6: Bluetooth Low Energy can be used to Communicate with Legacy Systems

It can’t be emphasized too strongly that your smartphone is already BLE enabled. As mentioned earlier, there are units available that can “translate” between BLE and systems such as DALI or 0-10V. So rather than carrying a controller on your person that is only useful to communicate to your legacy system, take advantage of this interoperability to avoid this inconvenience and continue to do it all from the convenience of your smartphone.

The Next Step

The Bluetooth and BLE standards are used the world over. They’ve been around for a long while and are constantly being modified to take advantage of any way to squeeze down both costs and power requirements.  Best of all, improvements are all backwards compatible. What that means is that you can be sure that the high-quality LED drivers that you purchase from GRE Alpha today will stay relevant and operational for years to come. Become acquainted with the benefits of Bluetooth and Bluetooth BLE, and be sure to contact GRE Alpha for more information on our easy-to-install BLE-compliant dimming modules.