Bluetooth mesh networking FAQs

FAQ Topics:

General Market | Message RelayProvisioning | General ArchitectureSecurity Reliability Other

General market questions

What is Bluetooth® mesh?

Bluetooth mesh networking enables many-to-many (m:m) device communications and is optimized for creating large-scale device networks. It is ideally suited for building automation, sensor network, asset tracking, and other IoT solutions that require tens, hundreds or thousands of devices to communicate with one another.

Where can I use Bluetooth mesh?

We expect Bluetooth mesh to be is used across a wide range of markets. We are seeing significant activity in the building automation market, especially with commercial lighting solutions, and in sensor network solutions across several markets. It is ideally suited for IoT solutions that require tens, hundreds or thousands of devices to communicate with one another.

Which Bluetooth versions support mesh networking? Can I upgrade existing products that use Bluetooth technology?

Mesh networking operates on Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) and is compatible with core specification version 4.0 and higher. Only products designed to be upgradable can be enhanced in the field to support mesh networking. Upgradeability is determined by several factors, such as the amount of memory available in the Bluetooth chip.

Why should I choose Bluetooth mesh networking over other low-power wireless mesh solutions?

Bluetooth mesh networking brings a number of key advantages to the developer community, including:

Industrial-grade solution: Commercial building and factory automation represent major new market opportunities for low-power mesh networks. These markets demand true industrial-grade solutions and have strict reliability, scalability and security expectations that Bluetooth mesh delivers.

Proven global interoperability: Markets flourish when true multi-vendor interoperability exists and consumers are assured that your products work with those from other vendors.  Bluetooth achieves this with:

  • full-stack implementation,
  • interoperability-centric specification approach and
  • time-tested interoperability tools and processes.

Mature, trusted technology: When selecting a wireless connectivity technology, your decision criteria should go beyond basic speeds and feeds to include an understanding of the added value the technology provides and the ecosystem support available to you. Bluetooth is a trusted brand with more than 90% global awareness.

With Bluetooth technology you can bring significant value added capabilities to your products, such as beacon support for localized information and asset-tracking and way-finding services. Bluetooth has cultivated a mature ecosystem to ensure you can find the best enabling technology at the right cost while gaining access to the development and test tools and services you need to bring your product to market.

When will commercial products be available for Bluetooth mesh networking?

You can expect to see commercial products with Bluetooth mesh networking technology available this year.

What do I need to build a Bluetooth mesh networking product?

To build Bluetooth mesh networking products, you need compatible hardware and software. Bluetooth mesh networking requires an underlying Bluetooth LE 4.x or 5.0 stack, which supports the GAP Broadcaster and Observer roles, to both advertise and scan for advertising packets.

To use Bluetooth mesh networking protocols over Bluetooth LE, it’s recommended that you use an SDK from a Bluetooth module provider, which includes Bluetooth mesh networking protocols with corresponding APIs.

What do I need to build a Bluetooth mesh networking smartphone application?

To develop smartphone or tablet applications for use with Bluetooth mesh networking products, if your mobile operating system provides suitable APIs which allow an application to meet the requirements relating to Bluetooth LE advertising packets defined in the Mesh Profile specification, you should use the advertising bearer. The advertising bearer is the preferred bearer in all cases. Where the advertising bearer cannot be used, you may use the Bluetooth mesh proxy protocol to enable communication with the mesh network via a proxy node. The proxy protocol can be implemented on top of standard Bluetooth Low Energy GAP and GATT APIs.

Will sensor solutions move from Bluetooth broadcasting to mesh networking?

Yes, we expect many sensor solutions to adopt mesh networking. Its range, data capacity and security capabilities are superior to those in broadcasting and well suited to sensor networks.  

Does Bluetooth mesh networking require more power?

No, sensors and similar battery-powered devices operate as low-power nodes on a Bluetooth mesh network. They only need to wake up at least once every four days or when they have data to transmit, like a temperature reading. This allows for very low-power consumption.

Can I use Bluetooth mesh networking to stream music to all the speakers in my home?

No, wireless audio products, like speakers, use Bluetooth Basic Rate/Enhanced Data Rate (BR/EDR), which is designed for continuous wireless connections and optimized for audio streaming. Bluetooth mesh networking uses Bluetooth LE, which is designed for short-burst wireless connections and is ideal for the many-to-many device messaging.

The mesh networking specification is only available for Bluetooth LE and does not support audio streaming.

Does mesh affect other Bluetooth wireless devices operating nearby, like listening to music?

No, you can continue to listen to music, sync your activity tracker and see notifications on your smart watch whilst in or near a mesh network.

Are there other Bluetooth Low Energy network topologies available?

Yes, other network topologies available for Bluetooth LE include:

  • point-to-point, used to create one-to-one (1:1) device communications, is ideal for data transfers, and is well suited for connected device products, such as fitness trackers and health monitors, and
  • broadcast, used to establish one-to-many (1:m) device communications, optimizes localized information sharing, and is ideal for beacon solutions, such as those that provide point-of-Interest (PoI) information and item and way-finding services.

Message relay questions

Why did Bluetooth choose a flood-based message relay approach?

A managed flood approach to message relay best meets the requirements for enabling simple, reliable and scalable mesh networks.

With managed flood messaging, no complex routing table creation and management is required. Even in routed solutions, where a table can be automatically generated, significant network interruptions can occur.

Managed flood messaging is inherently multipath, ensuring messages reach their intended destination. It’s also inherently peer-to-peer, allowing all nodes to communicate directly with one another. With no central hub or routing nodes, there are no single points of failure.

In most mesh network implementations, a significant percentage of messaging traffic is multicast, such as a single light switch in a building that controls tens or hundreds of lights. The managed flood messaging approach of Bluetooth mesh, combined with its publish/subscribe group messaging model, supports extremely efficient messaging for large-scale networks with high performance.

Are all flood-based mesh networks power inefficient?

No, in a simple flood-based mesh network that can be the case, but Bluetooth technology implements a managed flood approach in which only main-powered nodes serve as message relays. Low-power nodes, such as battery-powered sensors, are not responsible for message relay. In a Bluetooth mesh network, low-power nodes with a coin-cell battery can operate for many years.

How does Bluetooth mesh networking handle multicast messaging?

Bluetooth mesh handles multicast communications using a publish/subscribe group messaging approach.

Half of the address space is allocated to group addresses, and a message can be sent to a group address. Each node can be configured to subscribe to a set of group addresses and publish messages to a set of group addresses.

For example, a light switch may publish the "turn on" message to the "hallway group", and all lights along that hallway would be subscribed to that same "hallway group" address. But the lights may also be subscribed to other groups, such as the "ground floor group", the "all lights group", and the "emergency exit route" group.

Bluetooth mesh also supports virtual addresses, which extend group addresses by allowing a 128-bit UUID to act as the destination address. A hash of the Label UUID is used to reduce the overhead of checking UUIDs. Each hash value represents millions of different Label UUIDs, increasing the number of potential virtual addresses.

Provisioning questions

What is provisioning?

Provisioning is the process of adding a device to a specified mesh network. It turns a device into a node on the network and includes security key distribution and the creation of a unique ID for the device being added.

Can I back up my provisioning data and restore it?

Yes, you can back up your provisioning data. This is not defined in the specification, so you can use any backup mechanism you like.

General architecture questions

What is a node? 

A node is a provisioned device on a Bluetooth mesh network.

How many nodes can I have in a single network?

While the spec allows for up to 32,000 nodes to be provisioned, we don’t expect those numbers to be achieved quickly in the real world. However, we are already seeing representative networks exceeding well over 1,000 nodes, which is much greater than other low power mesh technologies on the market today.

Do I need different types of nodes for a Bluetooth mesh network?

No, unique to Bluetooth mesh networking, all nodes in a network are decentralized and can talk to each other directly.

There are no centralized hub or routing nodes, so there is no single point of failure. However, to accommodate low-power nodes, such as battery-powered sensors, only some nodes perform the message relay function.

Some nodes take on additional functions to support messaging to low-power nodes. This allows a low-power node to remain part of a network, but it can sleep for hours or days at a time until it needs to report some bit of information. As a result, low-power nodes using a coin-cell battery can operate for many years.

What are models and properties?

Bluetooth adopted a simple, yet powerful approach for developers to describe what a node on a Bluetooth mesh network is and does so that it can interact with other nodes. This approach is based on a set of building blocks called models. Models consist of a collection of features with defined functions and behaviors.There are four classes of models, including generics, sensors, timing and lighting. Generic models are the basic building blocks and define the standard functionality of a device, such as the ability to have a simple on/off state. You can combine generic models or enhance them using properties. Properties provide additional context and value to a model.

Security questions

How is security handled in a Bluetooth mesh network?

Bluetooth mesh networking is a true industrial-grade solution, including its approach to security.

  • Devices added to a network are provisioned using proven security algorithms. This uses 256-bit elliptic curves and out-of-band authentication to securely add devices.
  • All communication is required to be secured using AES-CCM using 128-bit keys. All mesh messages are encrypted and authenticated.
  • Encryption and authentication are applied at two layers, the network layer and the application layer. All nodes in the network help relay messages at the network layer without being able to read their contents. Those contents are secured with a separate application key, providing true end-to-end security.
  • Each message has a minimum of 64 bits of authentication, but it’s possible to have up to 1088 bits of authentication for the longest messages.
  • Models are organized in the specification to account for different users with different security credentials. This gives maintenance personnel full control over network configuration while allowing employees to interact.
  • Replay attacks are prevented by mandating fresh sequence numbers on every message sent.
  • Devices can be blacklisted in the mesh network by using defined key update procedures. During provisioning, each device computes a unique device key that only the provisioner knows and can update.
  • Messages protect identify by obfuscating every packet sent and refreshing privacy. This means that even if you carry mesh devices on you while walking around, people sniffing mesh packets cannot track you.

What kinds of security attacks is Bluetooth mesh networking designed to prevent? 

  • Brute-force attacks are prevented by using 128-bit keys, and a minimum of 64-bit authentication on every single packet.
  • Replay attacks are prevented by using fresh sequence numbers of every packet sent and checking those on every packet received.
  • Man-in-the-middle attacks are prevented using ECDH cryptography during provisioning with out-of-band authentication.
  • Trashcan attacks are prevented using a key-refresh procedure, allowing keys in all remaining devices and blacklisting the removed/broken devices. Should someone disassemble a thrown-out device, it can’t reveal any security information.
  • Physically insecure device attacks are prevented by allowing devices in an insecure location to have separate keys to those in a physically secure location. This prevents someone from attacking a door bell and sending a message to unlock the door.
  • Visitor attacks are prevented by giving guests and visitors temporary and limited access to the network using a separate set of keys. These guest keys have a limited lifetime.

Do I lose privacy when using a Bluetooth mesh network?

No, every mesh packet is obfuscated to protect the user’s identity. An attacker listening to mesh packets cannot determine which device sent that message since there are no identifying values, such as the source or destination address. Each time a message is relayed, this obfuscated information is changed, removing the ability to track message flow.

What happens if my neighbors also have a Bluetooth mesh network?

Each mesh packet includes a small identifier that determines which network the mesh packet belongs to. A device in one mesh network can’t decrypt or authenticate mesh packets from another mesh network, and it will never relay those messages. Each mesh network is completely isolated.

Reliability Questions

How do I know if nodes on my Bluetooth mesh network stop working?

Nodes on a Bluetooth mesh network send out a heartbeat message. In addition, there is a mandatory Health model that allows devices to send out fault information. For example, if a device overheats, it sends an "overheating fault" message.

Is traffic affected if nodes break?

No, nodes relaying messages that stop working will not stop the network. Flood message relay creates an inherently self-healing network, as messages are sent through multiple routes at the same time.

Other Questions

When will the spec be available?

Bluetooth mesh networking specifications, as well as the tools required to qualify Bluetooth products with mesh networking support, are now available here.

Is the qualification process for Bluetooth mesh networking specifications different than it is for other Bluetooth specifications?

No, the process is the same. Core Specification Addendum 6 (CSA 6) introduces new Bluetooth mesh networking terminology, but product type categories and allowable combinations (defined in the Bluetooth Core Specification Vol. 0) are unchanged, and members are still responsible for meeting the qualification requirements in the Qualification Program Reference Document (PRD). To learn more about qualifying your new or modified product for Bluetooth mesh or any other Bluetooth specification, take a look at the Bluetooth Qualification Process.

Can I start qualifying products with Bluetooth mesh networking today?

Yes, click here if you’re ready to qualify your new or modified product for Bluetooth mesh.

Can I qualify my existing Bluetooth products with low-energy functionality for Bluetooth mesh?

No, existing products cannot be qualified for Bluetooth mesh. However, those products may already have the inherent ability to be added onto a mesh network.

Should I be aware of any branding changes with Bluetooth mesh networking?

No, all qualified Bluetooth products continue to use the Bluetooth combination mark and/or figure mark. Click here to download the Bluetooth brand guide and registered trademarks files.