Bluetooth 4.1 is coming on December 3rd, and it’s an improvement for hearing aids

Bluetooth 4.1 is coming on December 3rd, and it’s an improvement for hearing aids

 

Bluetooth 4.1 is coming on December 3rd, and it’s an improvement for hearing aids and cochlear implants: Although not yet widely publicized, our friends at GeekWire have an exclusive look at what’s coming with Bluetooth 4.1, including peripheral device communications with each other, without needing your mobile as a “hub.”

From the article:

Soon, your Bluetooth-enabled wearables should be able to talk directly to one another, rather than having to route all their traffic through your smartphone or another hub device.

Bluetooth 4.0, otherwise known as Bluetooth SMART, enabled Bluetooth devices to communicate with one another while maintaining a low power draw. It’s what keeps your Fitbit in sync with your phone, and sends notifications to your Pebble, without killing the battery of whatever device is being used as the hub for all of your Bluetooth SMART devices.

Now, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, the Kirkland [Washington (ed.)]-based organization behind Bluetooth, is gearing up to release a new version of the Bluetooth spec in early December, known as Bluetooth 4.1.

According to Suke Jawanda, the Chief Marketing Officer for Bluetooth, 4.1 isn’t going to be the revolution that Bluetooth 4.0 was. Speaking to GeekWire at the GigaOm Mobilize conference this week, Jawanda calls it an “evolutionary” release that’s building off the innovations that came from Bluetooth 4.0. But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything interesting coming for consumers.

The first big change in Bluetooth 4.1 is the ability for Bluetooth SMART devices to better talk to one another. Right now, all of the data coming in from Bluetooth devices goes into your phone, and can then be sent out again. Under Bluetooth 4.1, developers will be able to make it so that when it makes sense for one device (say, a heart-rate sensing chest wrap) to talk to something like a smartwatch, that will be possible without having to use the phone as a go-between.

“So I’ve got a watch that’s acting as a hub for a chest wrap or any other sensors, and it’s sending all the data here where I can consume it on the screen, and it’s still acting as a display for the phone,” Jawanda said.

This directly pertains to hearing aids and cochlear implants (CI’s), as this will allow for them to connect to Bluetooth 4 audio transmitters without needing a mobile phone or iPod to act as a controller — Think of no longer needing an app like ReSound Control.

Author Blair Hanley Frank continues…

Finally, Bluetooth is starting to work on how it can get people away from having to rely on their phones or another mobile device to connect all of the devices in their life to the cloud. While something like a fitness tracker or smartwatch may be just fine if you leave your phone in the family room while you go down into the basement and then come back in half an hour, more robust uptime is important for other applications, like medical tracking.

“The patient may not have a phone, it may not be on, this is kind of a transient device, right? But they might have a router in their house that’s always on, their set-top box might always be on,” Jawanda said.

Now, Bluetooth is working to build the capabilities for devices like routers and set-top boxes to interface with Bluetooth SMART devices, so that you won’t need to worry about whether a key Bluetooth-enabled device will be unable to phone home to the cloud if your phone runs out of battery, or accidentally falls in a toilet. That said, don’t expect that your Fitbit will be able to upload data straight to the cloud starting in December. While 4.1 brings the infrastructure for that sort of functionality, software and profiles for those use cases won’t be in place until “later next year,” according to Jawanda.

According to Jawanda, it should be possible for some devices to take advantage of the new features that Bluetooth is rolling out with Bluetooth 4.1 with only a software update, depending on what hardware the actual Bluetooth modem uses. Bluetooth will be doing a full unveiling of the 4.1 specification in early December, which is when we’ll be able to dive into the nitty-gritty details about how all this works.

Not every streamer is capable of flashROM upgrades, or even supports Bluetooth 4.0. For example, the ReSound Phone Clip Plus and Widex M-Dex only support Bluetooth 2.3; while the Oticon Streamer Pro supports Bluetooth 4.0 and has flash upgrade capability.

Nucleus 6 speech processor

Nucleus 6 CI speech processor connectivity options.
Note that the N6 will not receive Bluetooth signals directly: The ReSound Phone Clip Plus is required as a “bridge” to convert the Bluetooth signal into the proprietary ReSound 2.45 gHz format for transmission to the N6

 

In Other News:

In other news, we have confirmed with Cochlear that their new Nucleus 6 CI speech processor will have wireless programming through the Remote Assistant; and that the N6 is compatible with the ReSound Phone Clip Plus streamer for bridging to Bluetooth devices. In addition, their just-released BAHA 4 bone conductor hearing aid is able to use the full suite of 2.45 gHz ReSound Unite wireless accessories.

← UPDATED: Qualifying For Cochlear Implants: Were YOU Washed Out Due To Improper Speech Testing? Participate in a brief iPhone-based in-home study of Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) for all ages →

About the author

Dan Schwartz

Electrical Engineer, via Georgia Tech

5 Comments

  1. Mahendra Tailor
    November 17, 2013 at 5:23 am

    On the subject of audio streaming on BLE radios, assuming the audio is passed over L2CAP then it bypasses GATT.
    It should be interesting to see how such profiles will be defined and created.
    Let us hope that the management of L2CAP channels is expedited through GATT services so that devices can always determine if another device is capable of L2CAP data channels.

    As an example, iOS devices could easily provide such L2CAP connections, but I should not have to find out by readin up some iOS API to see if it is. Ideally, the presence of a standard service could tell the other end that it is available and go from there.

    Then that raises the hope that the SIG will announce an adopted service which allows this management.


  2. Nick Hunn
    November 19, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I’m afraid the comment about support for audio using low energy is a bit premature. That’s not going to be available in Bluetooth 4.1. What is new in 4.1 is the change in topology which allows devices to talk directly to other devices, rather than needing the phone as an intermediary. However, that only applies to data, not audio.

    The Bluetooth SIG set up a Hearing Aid study group earlier this year which is looking at the best way to support the very low power audio that hearing aids need, but it will be some time before that work is complete.


    • Dan Schwartz
      November 19, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Nick, thank you for copying & pasting your comment from the BLE group — I didn’t know about this important nuance.

      Please also check your inbox~


  3. Dan Schwartz
    December 2, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Thank you for the reference!


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