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Bluetooth 5 is coming. Will your mobile apps leverage its new power?

Wi-Fi is what we all talk about. It’s what we all write about. It’s built into every wireless device. Your apps depend on it. But, what about Bluetooth? If you haven’t recently thought about leveraging the power of Bluetooth in your apps, the time to think anew is here.

The launch of Bluetooth 5 is just a few days away (June 16). This is a big deal. Bluetooth 5 offers the promise of up to double the range and transfer speeds up to four times faster than the current incarnation of the technology.

According to Mark Powell, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (the organization that oversees the Bluetooth standard, its trademarks, and licensing), BT 5 will, “double the range and quadruple the speed of low energy Bluetooth transmissions.” But, that’s not all. BT 5 will also broaden its capabilities for connectionless services, such as location-relevant information and navigation.

That’s great news. A year ago, I wrote about how Florida’s Sarasota Memorial Health Care System was using Bluetooth Low Energy with iBeacon to pinpoint people’s precise current locations within the sprawling multistory facility and display that information on a tablet or smartphone using cloud-resident maps. Think of it as an interactive “you are here” handheld map to help prevent visitors from getting lost. Bluetooth works because it is highly precise. GPS, for example, doesn’t work nearly as well for determining elevation — which floor of a multistory building you’re currently on.

BT 5 is also beefs up its so-called “advertising packets” technology. This isn’t about product advertising, but about a device, such as a Bluetooth speaker being able to more easily say “I’m a speaker and I’m nearby,” in essence advertising its presence. This will help devices that aren’t already paired to more easily find each other.

I don’t yet know if BT 5 is an upgrade to existing hardware, or if new hardware will be required. If it’s the latter, the impact won’t happen until phones and other devices go through a couple of refresh cycles. The capability might be in Apple’s next set of phones, or not until 2017. It’s too early to know. Either way, Bluetooth shouldn’t be overlooked in your next mobile app development project.

Share the ways you’ve leveraged the power of Bluetooth and how extended range and faster transfer speeds could alter your thinking. We’d like to hear from you.