Walking up to the massive curved OLED screens that cover the entrance to LG’s CES 2020 booth, I spot the flag of my tour guide right away. It’s Day 2 of the show, and I’ve missed a lot of the big unveilings; I’m excited to catch up on the gadgets I haven’t yet seen.

After I introduce myself, the guide hands me a wireless receiver the size of a thick credit card, connected to a lanyard and a pair of cheap analog headphones. While this is the norm for any kind of tour these days — and it’s better than the guide trying to shout at all of us — I can’t help but think the tour would be much more convenient, and would certainly sound better, if I could just tune into the tour with my own wireless earbuds.

Ironically enough, just a day earlier, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) had announced exactly that feature: Broadcast Audio, which will allow headphones and headsets to tune into specific public or private broadcasts over Bluetooth®. It’s part of the newly announced Bluetooth LE Audio, and it has the potential to change audio tours forever, letting patrons BYOH (bring your own headphones).

“We think it’s a huge game changer,” Ken Kolderup, VP of marketing for the Bluetooth SIG says. “It really introduces an entire new use case for Bluetooth. There are many applications, and we’re excited to see the innovation coming from the developer community in this area.”

Auracast™ broadcast audio will allow for both personal audio sharing — where someone with a Bluetooth device shares their stream to a group, or location audio sharing, which could upgrade audio tours like the one I went on. A venue — say, an airport — would enable the feature on its TVs that support LE Audio. Anyone interested in tuning in could connect their headphones to hear the TV.

The exact process would be up to the device developers, but the general idea is the listener would use their smartphone as an intermediary to complete the process. Once that’s done, the headphones would be able to hear audio accompanying the broadcast, and the venue could even offer multiple streams to accommodate different languages.

“You can actually optimize the audio listening experience for yourself on your own headphones,” Chris Havell, Qualcomm’s senior director of audio product marketing, explains. “So if you wanted to hear it a little louder than what I wanted to hear it, or even have some kind of adaptation of audio that you could do that.”

Sharing a Bluetooth® connection with multiple strangers might not seem like the wisest idea, but the spec keeps each stream encrypted separately, so there isn’t any more risk to your device’s security than normal device pairing. And LE Audio is more resilient to packet loss, so if your tour guide gets ahead of you, there’ll be less chance of the audio cutting out (which happened multiple times on my tour, though the interference-heavy hallways of CES are kind of an X factor). 

“The codec is more robust in how it handles loss of packets in terms of how choppy the conversation can become,” says Dr. Alfonso Carrera of Fraunhofer IIS, which developed the audio codec for LE Audio. “It also has an implication for battery life, since a codec that’s more resilient to packet loss you don’t have to send so much power.”

One consideration with Broadcast Audio in Bluetooth is discoverability: How will people even know that a stream’s available, and even if they do, how will they know what to do? Clearly, there would need to be some kind of signage that would tell patrons in a venue that a Bluetooth® broadcast is available, at least until people get used to scanning for them.

And there will be. The Bluetooth SIG is introducing branding for Auracast™ broadcast audio specifically, a logo that a venue can use to signal to customers that a Bluetooth broadcast is available, even in multiple languages.

“The best analogy is probably Wi- Fi,” says Kolderup. “Right now you walk into a location and you say ‘I want to connect to Wi- Fi,’ and you scan for networks. You can expect the same type of thing: So you open the app for your earbuds or your headset, and it shows all the Bluetooth® audio broadcasts near you.”

On the Bluetooth SIG’s timeline for LE Audio, location-based implementations of Broadcast Audio are expected to come later than other features, with the first of them coming in the back half of 2021 at the earliest. It’ll probably take some time after that for it to arrive in your gym since most venues are on a fixed cycle for replacing equipment like TVs (although aftermarket solutions will likely be possible, too).

But there’s no rush: LE Audio is meant to lay a foundation for the future of wireless audio for developers and vendors to build on, and, as my experience at CES shows, Broadcast Audio has clear utility. In five years, listening to tours with your own wireless headphones might be the norm, and those awkward, cheap headsets could join corded phones on the pile of obsolescence.

Pete Pachal is a lifelong technology journalist and the Executive Editor of CoinDesk. Pete has served as the chief tech editor for several prominent media brands, including Mashable, PCMag, and the Syfy Channel, and was the Editorial Director of Reviews.com. As a thought leader in tech, Pete has appeared on The Today Show, CNN, CNBC, Fox Business, TDAmeritrade Network, PBS Newshour, NPR, The Daily Show, Cheddar, and more. Pete holds degrees in journalism and engineering physics. His favorite Doctor Who monsters are the Cybermen.

FEATURED INNOVATION

LE Audio

Building on 20 years of innovation, LE Audio will not only enhance the performance of Bluetooth audio, but will bring all its benefits to people with hearing loss. LE Audio will also introduce Auracast™ broadcast audio, an innovative new capability with the potential to once again change the way we connect with each other and experience the world around us.

LEARN MORE

New Forecasts Highlight the Future of the Wireless Audio Market

Since its inception, audio has represented the largest solution area for Bluetooth® technology, and…

Upgrade Wireless Mic System To Support Auracast™ Via VOCE

Want to upgrade your wireless microphone system to support Auracast™? As long as there…

New Market Opportunities Enabled by Auracast™ Broadcast Audio

The arrival of LE Audio is set to transform the Bluetooth® audio ecosystem over…

LE Audio: The Future Of Wireless Sound

Introducing LE Audio: a new standard for Bluetooth technology on Galaxy devices. LE audio…

Explained: How to Join an Auracast™ Broadcast

Recently, Chuck Sabin, senior director of market development at the Bluetooth Special Interest Group…

LE Audio: The Future of Bluetooth® Audio

ABI Research outlines how the arrival of LE Audio is set to transform the Bluetooth audio ecosystem and the impact it will have on Bluetooth® audio market forecasts.

The 2022 State of Sound Report

The State of Sound report is an annual study featuring a summary of research…

Continuous Bluetooth LE Audio Innovation Enables Xiaomi to Explore New Use Cases in Audio

Since it was first introduced to the world, Bluetooth® technology has become increasingly relevant to…

Is Auracast™ Broadcast Audio the New Standard for Assistive Listening Systems?

It’s only been a few months, but the release of Auracast™ broadcast audio is…

What Product Developers & Public Locations Need to Know About Auracast Broadcast Audio

Download the presentation deck Bluetooth® technology has introduced Auracast™ broadcast audio, a new capability…

The Bluetooth LE Audio User Base Is Exponential: Here's Why

As SIG members and Bluetooth® connectivity experts, Qualcomm Technologies International, Inc. helped address the…

Auracast Simple Transmitter Best Practices Guide

This paper provides a set of clear, concise, and useful recommendations for product makers…

Comparing The Different Wireless Technologies For Condition Monitoring Applications In IIoT

There are several wireless technologies to choose from, each with their advantages and disadvantages…

Shouting and Listening: Extending Bluetooth LE Range

Increasing the range of a wireless product is an advantage for virtually every application.…

Sizing the Opportunity for Auracast™ Broadcast Audio in Public Locations

Featuring data and research from Strategy Analytics, this report helps readers and decision makers…

Bluetooth audio’s biggest upgrade in years is coming soon to headphones

We’re on the cusp of a new generation of wireless headphones that are more…

Bluetooth SIG Announces Auracast™ Broadcast Audio, Allowing Unlimited Audio Sharing to Earbuds, Speakers or Hearing Devices

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), the trade association that oversees Bluetooth® technology, today…

Auracast is coming to Bluetooth, boosting movement, inclusion, and participation for hearing device users

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), the standards mover and shaker for the short-range…

Penn Waste Inc. Minimizes Machine Downtime And Improves Efficiency

Learn how Dodge Industrial partnered with Cassia Networks to help Penn Waste Inc. reduce…

2022 Bluetooth Market Update

Featuring new market insights and industry forecasts from ABI Research and other analyst firms...

The Future Of Sound: Envisioning The Ecosystem Of Bluetooth LE Audio

When the Bluetooth 4.0 specification was released, Bluetooth Smart (now Bluetooth Low Energy (LE))…

Introducing Bluetooth® LE Audio

Now available for free digital download, get your copy of this in-depth, technical overview of the LE Audio specifications.

Disrupting the Restoration Industry with Bluetooth

When Steven Kramer became aware of how antiquated water restoration operations had become in…

Long Range High-Quality Bluetooth Audio at L'Oreal Office

L’Oreal was looking for a new solution and wanted to test wireless Bluetooth headsets…

 Get Help