Bluetooth Is Getting Its Biggest Update in Years

Listen up if you want your headphones and speakers to produce better sound: Within the next few years, Bluetooth bandwidth will double, according to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG).

In a briefing held via Vimeo, the SIG stated it intends to increase the wireless transmission protocol's current capacity from about "4Mbps to 6Mbps — maybe up to 8Mbps" and would begin investigating the 6GHz frequency range to enable speedier transmission.

Compared to the 4.6Mbps required to carry lossless 24-bit/96kHz hi-res audio, Bluetooth 5.0 currently delivers variable rates between 125Kbps and 2Mbps. However, having twice as much bandwidth would enable data transfer in every Bluetooth-enabled gadget.

Unfortunately, Chuck Sabin, the SIG’s senior director of market development, said “When you ask us, 'Well, when is this going to happen?' It’s really too early to talk about timing but we do see this as securing the next 20-years-plus of performance enhancements for Bluetooth technology and the drive for more and more devices taking advantage of Bluetooth technology."

The Bluetooth SIG's announcement is interesting because it envisions a time when all headphones and speakers will be able to playback high-resolution audio, not just those with specialized chipsets and support for cutting-edge codecs like aptX Lossless or LDAC, which are only found on a select few products like the Sony WH-1000XM5.

Wi-Fi is a different strategy being pursued by audio makers to provide the speeds required to stream lossless audio. Lossless music can be delivered using Wi-Fi 6, which has a maximum speed of 9.6Gbps, but you must remain connected to your limited-range home network to do so.

Wireless high-resolution audio is still a way off for Bluetooth, but according to Sabin, the Bluetooth SIG is working to expand the use of Bluetooth LE and Auracast in additional environments. The latter supports location-based Bluetooth, where multiple headphones can connect to a single source at once. The former enables Bluetooth devices to conserve battery life with a lower-powered compression technique. (If you picture a sports arena, a restaurant, or a gym, you're on the right track.)

It's difficult to predict when we'll start using these features because the Bluetooth SIG can only manage the technology's development—not its implementation, which is up to device makers like Sony, LG, and others.

We can only hope that gadget manufacturers will seize the chance that the next Bluetooth technology offers and include it in our beloved products as soon as possible.

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