Designing with Bluetooth 5

One of the ubiquitous wireless communication methods has gotten even better. Bluetooth SIG has released Bluetooth 5 (BT5), an enhancement to the current Bluetooth Low Energy v4.2. The key updates to Bluetooth 5 are 8x data, 4x range, and 2x speed, as well as improved interoperability and coexistence with other wireless technologies. For a designer and consumer, here’s what you need to know about the new BT5.

1. Eight times the data

BT5 sports a larger broadcasting capacity. The size of the message has increased from 31 to 255 octet. To be more specific, the broadcasting capacity affects only the advertising message. This is particularly useful for a beacon-like application, whereby longer sensor data can be transmitted without pairing a device.

On top of larger broadcasting capacity, BT5 also introduced a new feature called “Advertising extensions”. This is to alleviate the possibility of the three advertising channels being over-congested, as there might exist beacon-like devices with a large broadcasting message and slow on-air transmission rate such as 125kb/s. The new feature mitigates this by keeping the shorter advertising message on the three advertising channels and offloading the longer data broadcast message to a pre-selected non-advertising channel (out of the 37 broadcasting channels). Another function of “Advertising extensions” is the ability to chain advertising packets to create a longer payload (>255 octet). This is akin to a long write, whereby a longer payload is broken down and sent via multiple max octet messages.

2. Four times the range

BLE 4.2 has a typical range of 10 to 20m and the new BT5 specification quadruples the range over which devices can transmit and receive data. In one of the demo videos from Nordic Semiconductor, a BT5 device was tested in a clear line-of-sight outdoor environment and it covered well over 770m (link)! However, there’s one caveat: the longer range the lower your data throughput.

With a longer-range coverage, this opens BT5 to a new set of potential applications and use cases. Product designers could now potentially design wireless home appliances to cover an entire house, e.g. a wireless sound bar system connected tightly to your phone regardless of the phone location within the home while keeping crisp and clear sounds wirelessly transmitting to the sound bar.

3. Twice the speed

The next major enhancement for BT5 is the doubled the transmission speed from 1 to 2Mb/s while still using the same Gaussian frequency shift keying (GFSK) modulation. Coupled with advancements introduced in BLE 4.2 which allowed for Data Length Extensions (DLE), the overall throughput is 5x higher than BLE 4.0. The improved data rate means a decrease in the transmission time for data, giving designers the ability to design new applications that simply need more data throughput than was possible previously such as enabling much faster Over the Air Device Firmware Upgrades (OTA-DFU). Nordic Semiconductor has written a blog on this with demo video to showcase the enhancement transmission speed of BT5 (link).

4. Improved operability

With the 2.4GHz ISM band getting increasingly congested, there’s always a possibility that our other 2.4GHz devices, e.g. LTE-enabled devices, get interfered or interfere with our Bluetooth device. Bluetooth SIG has introduced slot availability masks detection to prevent such interference. This feature works with the Mobile Wireless Standard (MWS) system.

Nordic Semiconductor nRF52840 Bluetooth 5-ready SoCs

THESIS now offers BT5 project development capability based on Nordic’s new nRF52840 and nRF52832 multiprotocol SoCs which are designed to take advantage of these significant performance advancements of BT5. Nordic’s nRF52840 is based on the powerful 64MHz Cortex-M4F microcontroller that meets the needs of the most demanding complex arithmetic applications such as inertial measurement (IMU) and biosensor analog signal processing. The chip supports DSP instructions, HW accelerated Floating Point Unit (FPU) calculations, single-cycle multiply and accumulate, and hardware divide for energy-efficient processing complex operations.

The nRF52840 also has an improved output power of 8dB on top of the long range features in BT5 and development on the nRF52840 is supported by KEIL, IAR and GCC. The chip also has a host of other power-saving features for extended battery life, a powerful on-chip cryptographic coprocessor that incorporates a true random number generator (TRNG) and support for a wide range of asymmetric, symmetric and hashing cryptographic services for secure applications and on-chip NFC.

And BT 5 is backward-compatible with the 4.x versions. With these key improvements, BT5 is set for greater adoption in the Internet of Things (IoT) arena. New applications in the consumer home-automation space, such as controlled lighting, are possible. This is especially true for industrial IoT, where the new BT5 features are a good fit for low-data-rate sensor reading with greater range, security, and reliability.


  • Advanced high-performance wearables
  • Wearables for secure payments
  • Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality systems
  • Smart home sensor networks
  • Smart city sensor networks
  • High performance HID controllers
  • Internet of Things (IoT) sensor networks
  • Smart door locks
  • Smart lighting networks
  • Connected white goods

Further resources: Nordic’s nRF52840 introduction video, embedded world 2017 demonstration, SDK preview video


Read more about BLE in our related series of articles:

If you’re looking for wireless technology for your IoT/smart-device project, have a chat with us to discuss the future possibilities of incorporating BT5 to speed up and simplify new product designs for your business.

Build the future.


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