What are the different Bluetooth® options and how do they vary?
After development through many revisions, Bluetooth has evolved into two main options: Bluetooth Classic and Bluetooth Low Energy.
- Bluetooth Classic allows continuous wireless connection and uses a point-to-point network topology in establishing one-to-one device communications. Bluetooth Classic Audio Streaming is widely used in wireless speakers, headsets, and hands-free car systems.
- Bluetooth Low Energy enables short-burst wireless connections and uses multiple network topologies, including point-to-point, broadcast, and mesh networks. At first, this Bluetooth protocol did not support audio streaming, therefore in most devices, it was present alongside the Classic Bluetooth protocol. However, after eight long years, Low Energy audio was introduced. Low Energy audio was developed through a desire to evolve the current audio specifications to include items such as low power consumption, more processing for things such as noise reduction, and future algorithms that might emerge, such as detecting traffic, and searching for where a conversation occurs in the environment. There was also a desire to reduce latency for improved sound quality when listening to live TV or when gaming. So, we can see the depth of the work that was done during this eight-year time period to develop this Low Energy audio that many of us are familiar with today.
Bluetooth and Hearing Aids
Besides Classic Bluetooth, there are currently up to four additional Bluetooth protocols found within hearing aids today: Standard Bluetooth Low Energy, Proprietary Bluetooth Low Energy, Apple Bluetooth Low Energy, and Apple Bluetooth Low Energy Audio.
Bluetooth Low Energy is a data-only Bluetooth protocol, and as an example, it communicates with wireless items such as Sonic’s RC-A remote control and the Noahlink Wireless programmer. It also communicates for data purposes with Sonic’s two apps, the SoundLink 2 app and SoundLink Connect app for remote fittings.
Proprietary Bluetooth Low Energy protocols include the open Bluetooth Low Energy specification, Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids (ASHA), which is a well-known solution that works on AndroidTM 10 and above. It essentially provides a different proprietary extension to Bluetooth Low Energy to support unidirectional streaming from any compatible Android device to a compatible hearing aid.
Apple Bluetooth Low Energy, launched in 2014, is Apple's own proprietary Bluetooth Low Energy solution for hearing aids. This solution allowed for one-way streaming between an iPhone® or iPad® and hearing aids. One of the main features was also live listen, which allowed the user to essentially make their compatible iPhone or iPad into a remote mic without the need to buy any additional accessories.
Apple Bluetooth Low Energy Audio was released in early 2021 and introduced bi-directional streaming for hands-free phone and video calls.
Future of Bluetooth
As we look to the future with audio streaming, this technology will continue to expand its support for hearing aids. The future may include Broadcast Audio, which is a new capability that will enable an audio source device, such as a smartphone, to broadcast one or more audio streams to an unlimited number of devices. These devices may include earbuds, speakers, and even hearing aids. Broadcast Audio opens significant new opportunities for innovation, including the ability to utilize personal and location-based audio sharing. This new Broadcast Audio feature will deliver unique audio experiences for consumers to enhance how we engage with each other and the world around us. It is going to allow people to listen together, to hear better, and to just unmute the world.
With the upcoming introduction of Broadcast Audio, Bluetooth technology can be or will be installed in public locations, and people will be able to interact with audio in various public venues and environments like they have never been able to before. And as noted in the Bluetooth SIG market report, over 60 million locations have a long-term potential to benefit from deploying Bluetooth Broadcast Audio. When we look at the future of Bluetooth, we also see how Low Energy Audio is really changing the game for Bluetooth technology in today's hearing aids. Low Energy Audio has improved sound quality over Standard Bluetooth, it has very low battery consumption, and again, with the implementation of Low Energy Audio and the conjunction of Broadcast Audio, you will have that ability to connect to announcements in public venues, stream broadcast from a presentation, and simultaneously stream to multiple devices.
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