Bluetooth® technology stripped away the hassle of wires on headphones, speakers, and more, revolutionizing audio and changing the way we consume media and experience the world. Now, we stand on the threshold of another major Bluetooth audio innovation.

Bluetooth LE Audio, the next generation of Bluetooth audio, will not only support development of the same audio products and use cases as Classic Audio, but it will also enhance audio performance, add support for hearing aids, and enable the creation of new products and use cases.

In a virtual presentation delivered earlier this year at Embedded World 2021, Nick Hunn, CTO of WiFore Consulting, provided insight into what we can expect from this next generation of Bluetooth audio. Hunn, an integral contributor to the new Bluetooth LE Audio specifications, has worked with Bluetooth technology for more than 20 years and provides a key perspective on this revolutionary audio innovation.

Why We Need Bluetooth LE Audio

The concept of Bluetooth LE Audio began several years ago when hearing aid companies proposed the idea of developing a low-power version of Bluetooth® audio using the Bluetooth Low Energy radio to be compatible with hearing aids. But the need and use cases for a low-power audio solution expands well beyond those with hearing loss.

“Last year, about 500 million wireless earbuds were manufactured. It’s incredible growth.” 
– Nick Hunn, WiFore Consulting

According to Hunn, market demand and changes in audio capability created new use cases for voice and audio streaming — such as voice assistance, true wireless stereo, and noise cancellation — beyond what Bluetooth audio was initially developed to support. 

Currently, most of these capabilities are proprietary extensions built on top of the Bluetooth specification. While proprietary extensions may support new use cases, they create challenges when it comes to ensuring devices manufactured by one company work with devices from another. 

Bluetooth LE Audio will support use cases in demand today as well as emerging use cases. Auracast™ broadcast audio is one such use case. “We see manufactures and users coming to us and saying we actually want to be able to wear our earbuds and move from one product to another product,” said Hunn. “People want a whole new ecosystem where they use audio flexibly, and that will be a mix of voice and media. We’ve tried to provide that capability, making audio far more encompassing.”

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Auracast™ Broadcast Audio

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Auracast™ Broadcast Audio

Traditionally, Bluetooth® audio devices supported a one-to-one connection, such as a smartphone paired with a headset. Hunn says there’s a strong demand for flexible audio experience capable of connecting to multiple devices to share music.

There is also a desire to see better solutions for audio support in public venues beyond telecoil. Auracast™ broadcast audio will enable the next generation of assistive listening systems (ALS) and allow public venues — such as airports, bars, gyms, cinemas, conference centers, places of worship, and more — to use Bluetooth audio to enhance experiences for people with hearing loss.

The wider consumer industry is also looking for new ways to share music. With Auracast™ broadcast audio, users in public environments will be able to tune directly into a venue’s music or announcements rather than just listening in the background.

According to Hunn, in addition to Auracast™ broadcast audio, the market needs low power, low latency, higher quality, and support for new topologies and use cases. All these features are part of Bluetooth LE Audio.

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FEATURED INNOVATION

Bluetooth LE Audio

Bluetooth® LE Audio will enhance the performance of Bluetooth audio, add support for hearing aids, and introduce Auracast™ broadcast audio, an innovative new Bluetooth capability with the potential to once again change the way we experience audio and connect with the world around us.

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