What is a BLE Module And How Does It Work?

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The evolution of Bluetooth 4 ushered in Bluetooth Low Energy technology. These compact yet highly effective BLE modules have become catalyst of the wireless revolution. Their energy efficiency makes them serve as a bridge between the physical and the cyber world. From fitness bands to home automation devices, BLE modules have become ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives. However, their potential is not limited to consumer electronics as they provide innovative solutions across various sectors like healthcare, IIoT, and asset management. This guide will help you understand the features of BLE modules and their uses, and help choosing the right BLE module for your projects.

What is a BLE module

Bluetooth modules are embedded printed circuit board assemblies (PCBAs) that integrate Bluetooth wireless communication capabilities. These modules combine the Bluetooth chip and peripheral hardware circuitry onto a single PCB, with custom firmware developed to implement the desired Bluetooth functionality within the device. The pin configurations of Bluetooth modules vary depending on their intended roles and applications. By interfacing with a microcontroller unit (MCU) through appropriate interfaces, these modules enable data transmission, adherence to Bluetooth communication standards, and networking capabilities.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) modules, also known as Bluetooth Smart modules, are a specific type of Bluetooth module that supports the Bluetooth 4.0 specification or later versions. A key characteristic of BLE modules is their low power consumption and cost-effective implementation, making them well-suited for applications with stringent real-time requirements but modest data rate demands. These applications include remote control devices (such as mice and keyboards), sensor data transmission (e.g., heart rate monitors, blood pressure monitors, temperature sensors), and other similar use cases.

The multiple roles of Bluetooth modules

Bluetooth communication refers to the communication between two Bluetooth modules or devices. In data communication, one party is the master or central, and the other is the slave (peripheral). Only after the master and slave establish a connection can they send and receive data. The main roles of a BLE module are as follows:

Master: Responsible for scanning devices and initiating connection requests. After establishing a connection, it becomes the master.

Slave: Responsible for broadcasting and waiting to receive connection requests from the master. After establishing a connection, it becomes the slave.

Broadcaster: Periodically broadcasts data to surrounding devices.

Observer: Listens for broadcast data or searches for surrounding devices but cannot initiate connections.

Additionally, Bluetooth modules support various operating modes: master device mode, slave device mode, master-slave combined mode, broadcast mode, Mesh networking mode, observer mode, and iBeacon mode.

The Bluetooth protocol stack does not limit the role scope of devices; the same BLE module can act as both a master and a slave. The term “master-slave combined” means that the BLE device can initiate connections and be passively connected, with each BLE device being a peer. Through different operating modes, BLE modules can play multiple roles, adapting to the needs of various application scenarios.

Differences between Bluetooth module and BLE module

In fact, Bluetooth Low Energy modules are a type of Bluetooth module. If classified by protocol, Bluetooth modules can be divided into classic Bluetooth modules (BT) and Bluetooth Low Energy modules (BLE).

Classic Bluetooth modules (BT): Generally refer to modules that support Bluetooth versions below 4.0, typically used for larger data transmissions such as voice, music, and higher data rates. Classic Bluetooth modules can be further subdivided into traditional Bluetooth modules and high-speed Bluetooth modules. Traditional Bluetooth modules were introduced in 2004, primarily supporting the Bluetooth 2.1 protocol and widely supported during the smartphone boom. High-speed Bluetooth modules were introduced in 2009, with a speed of approximately 24Mbps, eight times faster than traditional Bluetooth modules, suitable for data transfer between devices like camcorders to HDTVs, PCs to PMPs, and UMPCs to printers.

Bluetooth Low Energy modules (BLE): Refers to modules that support Bluetooth 4.0 or higher versions, also known as BLE modules. Bluetooth Low Energy is a new generation of technology built on the foundation of traditional Bluetooth but distinct from traditional Bluetooth modules. The main feature of BLE modules is ultra-low power consumption and low cost, but with lower data transfer rates.

It’s worth noting that the Bluetooth 4.0 standard includes both the traditional Bluetooth module and the Bluetooth Low Energy module parts, making it a dual-mode standard.

Popular applications of BLE modules

BLE can be categorized as the latest development in smart devices. BLE also plays an important role in various applications of complex IoT systems. I will give some common practical applications to help you understand BLE modules. They are ubiquitous, quietly providing solid support for the intelligence of various industries.

Smart Health

Fitbit, a globally renowned sports brand, widely adopts Nordic Semiconductor’s BLE chip modules in its wearable smart bands and heart rate monitoring devices. These devices can continuously monitor the wearer’s activity data, sleep quality, heart rate, and other health data 24 hours a day and synchronize with smartphones via Bluetooth, helping users comprehensively manage their health conditions.

Smart Home Scenario

More and more smart home solution providers are starting to adopt BLE technology as the core of smart homes. As a Bluetooth hardware supplier, mokosmart provides various BLE modules and sensors to help establish smart home solutions, such as door and window sensors, emergency buttons, etc. These devices use BLE technology to communicate with Bluetooth smart gateways. Users can remotely monitor the status of devices in their homes, automatically control various home appliances, and experience true smart home convenience through their smartphones.

Asset Tracking and Management

BLE modules are increasingly being used for asset tracking and positioning. Many IoT solution providers integrate BLE, GPS, and LoRaWAN for seamless indoor and outdoor tracking. The solution utilizes BLE modules for precise indoor positioning and status monitoring of pallets and assets, triggering alarms when anomalies are detected. Furthermore, it can be combined with Bluetooth to LoRaWAN gateways to expand the monitoring range, achieving end-to-end visibility and control of goods both indoors and outdoors.

Industrial IoT Applications

The leading manufacturer Bosch Group has developed an Industry 4.0 solution based on BLE communication for connecting various machines and equipment within factories. These BLE modules transmit device data wirelessly, enabling fault diagnosis, remote control, and predictive maintenance, thereby improving production efficiency and reducing maintenance costs.

Factors for choosing the right BLE module

There are indeed numerous BLE modules on the market, but how do you choose the most suitable one for your project? Here are some selection recommendations that may help:

  • Power consumption is a core metric: Applications like medical wearables are sensitive to battery life, so standby and operating power consumption should be prioritized.
  • Determine the required data rate: Bluetooth 4.X protocol has a theoretical maximum of 1Mbps, while 5.X can reach 2Mbps; choose based on throughput requirements.
  • Indoor or outdoor application scenarios: For longer-range outdoor communication, pay attention to RF power and antenna design.
  • Check interface consistency: Ensure compatibility with USB/UART/SPI/I2C, etc., and protocol stack support.
  • “Master-slave combined” flexibility: If both master and slave roles are needed, functional specifications should be higher.
  • Balance budget with cost and performance: Mainstream vendors like Nordic/TI/Cypress often have more stable products, while white-label modules are more affordable.
  • Supplier qualifications and support: Verify supply cycles, driver software support, customer service, test reports, etc.

You can refer to the suppliers’ official websites to understand the completeness of their software and hardware documentation, the openness of their SDK toolkits, and search online for customer feedback and relevant evaluations on technical forums.

In addition to the common standards mentioned above, some special scenarios like Mesh networking or iBeacon may have other specific requirements that you need to evaluate and plan for in advance. In any case, patient research and comparison are necessary to make the most suitable choice for your project.

FAQs about BLE modules

Q: How much do BLE modules cost?

The cost of BLE modules has decreased over time due to increased competition and technological advancements. With brands like CSR, Dialog, and Nordic entering the market, the price of BLE modules has decreased.

  • Basic BLE Modules: $2 – $10
  • Mid-range BLE Modules: $10 – $25
  • High-end BLE Modules: $25 – $50+

Q: Can BLE and classic Bluetooth interoperate?

No, they cannot interoperate directly. BLE and classic Bluetooth use different core modes and are incompatible. However, in the 4.0 specification, a mapping channel can be established to allow them to share the same applications.

Q: What is the transmission range of BLE modules?

The typical indoor transmission range of BLE modules is 10-30 meters, with a theoretical outdoor range of around 100 meters. The actual range depends on factors such as module power, antenna design, and environmental interference.

Q: How do BLE modules ensure low power consumption?

BLE adopts various power-saving mechanisms, such as fast looping, greatly reduced airtime utilization, extended slave sleep time, etc., allowing power consumption to be controlled at a few milliamps or even a few tens of microamps.

Q: Can BLE modules be used for networking communication?

Certainly, common wireless networking technologies based on BLE modules include Bluetooth Mesh networks, linear topology mesh networks, and more.

Written by ——
Nick He
Nick He
Nick, a seasoned project manager in our R&D department, brings a wealth of experience to MOKOSMART, having previously served as a project engineer at BYD. His expertise in R&D brings a well-rounded skill to his IoT project management. With a solid background spanning 6 years in project management and get certifications like PMP and CSPM-2, Nick excels in coordinating efforts across sales, engineering, testing, and marketing teams. The IoT device projects he has participated in include Beacons, LoRa devices, gateways, and smart plugs.
Nick He
Nick He
Nick, a seasoned project manager in our R&D department, brings a wealth of experience to MOKOSMART, having previously served as a project engineer at BYD. His expertise in R&D brings a well-rounded skill to his IoT project management. With a solid background spanning 6 years in project management and get certifications like PMP and CSPM-2, Nick excels in coordinating efforts across sales, engineering, testing, and marketing teams. The IoT device projects he has participated in include Beacons, LoRa devices, gateways, and smart plugs.
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