Bluetooth is set for a massive upgrade with the two-decade-old technology soon to support high-quality audio at low data rates for better power consumption and a whole new world of applications.
With an estimated billion Bluetooth devices in the wild, you can be forgiven for thinking the technology has remained the same since its inception.
However, since its release the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has continued to refine the platform over the years, with the next update called Bluetooth LE.
First announced at CES 2020, the new format will support both Bluetooth Classic and Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) which will be used ‘to improve [Bluetooth] performance as well as enable the creation of new products and use cases’.
LE Audio incorporates the use of a new high-quality, low-power audio codec, the Low Complexity Communications Codec (LC3).
Luckily for us, the majority of operating systems across computers and mobiles already natively support low energy codecs.
LC3 is capable of delivering high-quality audio signals even at low data rates, which SIG believes will give developers ‘tremendous flexibility… allowing them to make better design tradeoffs between key product attributes such as audio quality and power consumption’.
According to Head of Audio for Communications at Fraunhofer IIS Manfred Lutzky, ‘developers will be able to leverage these power savings to create products that can provide longer battery life or, in cases where current battery life is enough, reduce the form factor by using a smaller battery’ which may be extremely useful for the likes of Tile and their tracking devices.
The most important application for the new format is in hearing aid technology, with the low-power platform allowing for hearing aids to be transformed into Bluetooth audio devices capable of wireless calling.
‘Within a few years most new phones and TVs will be equally accessible to users with hearing loss’, claims Stefan Zimmer, Secretary-General of the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association.
Another key feature is the ability to broadcast or share audio with other devices around you or receive location-based shared audio like alerts from airports.
Multi-stream audio is also set to be supported by the new format, allowing for the ‘transmission of multiple, independent, synchronised audio streams between an audio source device,’ which Nick Hunn, Chair of the Bluetooth SIG Hearing Aid Working, believes can provide ‘a better stereo imaging experience’.