Everyone knows that Bluetooth is in their phone and their headset. What few realise is how many other products rely on it for their connectivity. Over the past few years I’ve been working with manufacturers and organisations to integrate wireless into their products, particularly in the area of healthcare and fitness. Having spoken about the current state of play at a recent conference, it struck me that most of Bluetooth’s success in this area is invisible. The reality is very different, as the recent statement from the Bluetooth SIG acknowledges – Bluetooth is present in over 20 million health and fitness devices. Market leaders like Philips, Nonin, Polar, Nintendo and Medtronics have chosen it. That’s not a arbitrary choice, but one that they’ve made for good technical reasons. To explain why, I’ve written a report about Bluetooth and the health ecosystem it is enabling. In it I cover the reasons it has achieved its current success and how it is poised to become the standard for all consumer health and fitness products. I also cover the changing health demographics to illustrate the reason we need it. To find out why, download the report –
It’s not just a story about successful technology. The world needs to reform its healthcare systems to meet the challenges of diseases like diabetes and asthma and to cope with the changing population demographics. I’ve written a report describing these challenges and how Bluetooth is addressing them. It explains how Bluetooth is evolving from it current position of de facto medical wireless standard by working with the medical and mobile community to ensure it provides the solutions that the industry need to scale to the billions.
Bluetooth’s success hasn’t come by chance. Bluetooth offers advantages that other wireless options, whether standard or proprietary, are not capable of providing. Key amongst these are:
- Excellent resistance to interference
- Best in Class Security.
- Low Power operation
- A RANDZ license-free regime which gives manufacturers the confidence to use it without being sued.
- Low Cost. Both as a result of the design of the specification and the economy of scale accruing from the production of billions of silicon chips by multiple vendors.
- Security of supply from that same range of silicon vendors.
- Being the short range radio of choice in mobile phones.
- Support from a community of over 11,000 member companies.
Medical devices are still not perfect; they have an Achilles’ heel, which is that the manner in which data is formatted remains proprietary, so similar devices from different vendors cannot talk to the same application. That is already changing. Bluetooth has worked with the Continua Alliance and the IEEE 11073 Personal Health Devices group to bring its Health Device Profile to market. Chosen as the wireless transport by the Continua Health Alliance, it is a first joint step to remove this proprietary barrier and bring interoperability to the medical market.
However, we are only looking at the tip of the healthcare iceberg. The next, vital step in this market, which will change its scale by multiple orders of magnitude, will appear as we make health and fitness devices cheaper and connect them to the web using mobile phones. Today over half of the world’s population owns a mobile phone, the majority of which include Bluetooth. The next Bluetooth standard, known as Bluetooth low energy will enable a new generation of battery powered health and fitness devices to talk directly to web based applications. Using a gateway technology, every new phone will be able to work with every Internet ready Bluetooth low energy device. Using the power of the scale and customer reach of the mobile networks and handset manufacturers, Bluetooth low energy has the potential to bring health monitoring to the entire world.
It cannot come soon enough. The demographics of the world’s population are changing. Advances in hygiene and medicine have brought us longer life, but with it increasing years of ill-health and a growing incidence of long term chronic conditions. The models on which we have built healthcare for the last few centuries cannot stand up to these pressures, which drain an ever greater part of our GDP every year.
To address these issues we need to harness technology to help people stay well, promoting a healthy, independent lifestyle. Technology may not necessarily cure people – that may or may not prove to be economic or even possible for the growing number of long term chronic conditions that we collect. But it can be used to inform and help the population to look after their own health, whether that is as an active teenager, parent, or grandparent.
Life and health is a continuous spectrum. In our youth, it may involve information about the way we play and our social interactions. As we grow and have children, it’s about staying fit to cope with the pressures of work, mortgage and family. Getting older, more and more of us are contracting long term chronic diseases and we need to find the best way to manage them as part of our everyday lives. And as we watch our grandchildren grow up, we need help to manage our surroundings, to help us live independently with peace of mind for ourselves and our families.
Bluetooth is key to making this possible because of its capabilities and, most importantly, because of its ubiquity. The latest version of the standard can support complex medical sensors as well as simple detectors for assisted living which need to run for years on a single battery. By making the connection to the internet simple, using the established ubiquity of mobile phones and the internet, it will also give developers, whether they are medics, researchers, or enthusiasts within disease support groups, the opportunity to write software and web applications that help us to stay healthier.
Bluetooth provides the platform for the innovation we need in healthcare. There is no other connectivity option that has the scale to let us progress from today’s deployments of a few thousand users to a global deployment of hundreds of millions. It is the only route to universal, connected healthcare.