Bluetooth 5 features

Question for the forums members with background in electronics and radio transmission.
This article brings up some interesting things about BT5 implementation. Not all Bluetooth 5-enabled smartphones are created equally, here's why

Questions: 1) If a phone doesn’t have one or more of the mentioned BT5 features, is this a hardware limitation, or something that could be fixed with a firmware upgrade (Nokia calls them Maintenance Releases)?
2) Any sense if this is likely to have any impact on hearing aids in the near future or are we likely talking hearing aids and phones generations away?
Thanks. Really appreciate the broad range of knowledge we have on the forum.

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My understanding is that hearing aids use the BLE or Low Energy version of the Bluetooth protocol so they are not a big drain on the battery life. Or, at least that is the way the MFi ones are when connected to an iPhone. Not sure if the Android ones use BLE or not…

Sierra, the Phonak Marvels have both BLE and full Bluetooth profiles. Not sure what BT version they are. They have other protocols like Roger and AirLink for the TV Connector (if you can consider that it’s not BLE – a contested topic these days).

MDB, my biggest suggestion if you want full BT 5.x features, is don’t use an also-ran phone like the Nokia. They were cutting edge once but not any more. I suggest you use a more mainstream phone in the heart of the competition like an iPhone or Samsung. They’re competing so much on features that you’ll be more likely to have a full-featured BT system with them.

Sorry if that seems flippant or arrogant. So to answer your question with more specifics, a BT chip’s software stack ought to be upgradeable because it uses the same base hardware; it’s just the software that implements the different protocol features. (This is assuming that the upgrades don’t require physical- or transport-layer changes.)

The problem is, the BT stack is embedded in the BT chip[set] and they may not have put features in the phone to update it internally.

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Thanks. So my take is that it MIGHT be upgradeable via software update, but that I shouldn’t hold my breath. I think I’m through trying to anticipate what features might be useful in the future and wait until I actually NEED them. My inexpensive Nokia more than meets my needs for now.

I did a quick check on the phones I have compared to a current one. And, from what I can see the Bluetooth version is kind of stuck with the hardware. My i7 for example is 4.2 according to the comparison website I used.

Curiosity question. If some phones are not using BLE to save power, are they hard on battery life when streaming or using the phone? My understanding that BLE was developed to reduce that problem.

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I’m pretty confident Bluetooth version is dependent on hardware. BT5 needs a BT5 compatible chipset. On Android phones there were some phones that had compatible chipsets, but did not transition to BT5 until they updated to Android Pie.
What I’m talking about is that there are optional features in BT5. Something can be called BT5 and not have those features. I suspect it’s “possible” for phone manufacturers to include those features via software updates, but unlikely.
It is my understanding that BLE was initially for sending commands and carried very little data. Apple managed to figure out a way to use it for streaming. Here’s a link to a discussion about how Apple accomplished this: Can anybody offer an explanation how Apple accomplishes streaming with LE Bluetooth?
Regarding battery life, Made for iPhone should have longer life because it uses BLE than Phonak Marvel which does not use BLE for streaming.

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I can tell you that Apple started Bluetooth 5 with the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X. Prior iPhones are locked in at the BT 4.2 version.

BLE was never intended to stream audio. It was intended to transfer small amounts of data at sparse intervals in a highly power-efficient manner. That’s why BLE is so power-efficient. Bluetooth audio streaming has always been done by the hi-fi full-Bluetooth A2DP profile.

In the last year or two people have been trying to cram streaming audio into BLE which has about 1/10 the necessary bandwidth. With all kinds of tricks they’re managing to do it, but it’s still pretty rare and takes special chipsets. The standard BT 5.0 will not do audio over BLE. Doubtful whether standard chipsets will EVER do audio over BLE until BLE gets much bigger bandwidth and along with it, much bigger power consumption.

So if some phones are using BLE to save power, they’re not streaming audio over it. Unless you’re talking about expensive latest-version iPhones to expensive, latest-version AirPods because Apple can pervert and customize any protocol in its closed-system product line. And IMO it’s not really BLE any more.

You don’t get something for nothing.

Have a read of this article from Signia:

Comparison of streamed audio signal quality: what matters in the real world

It is kind of a combination of marketing hype and some actual facts and a study. Elsewhere Signia at least claim they use BLE because it can stream to two devices at the same time, which means they can send left channel audio to the left aid, and right channel audio to the right aid. They claim that classic Bluetooth cannot do that? In any case it makes a little sense in that when I go into the pairing of MFi devices on my i7 phone they are paired independently. And if a battery goes dead only one shows paired in my KS8 app. And I just tried a few minute ago opening the battery door on each aid independently, and you only lose the audio on that aid, not both aids. That suggests they are sending audio direct and independently to each aid. That all kind of makes sense to me.

However the article makes a big deal about audio quality and the advantage of using 3 MHz (Mega, not Giga) as the carrier vs the 2.4 GHz that classic Bluetooth uses. They claim this use of 3 MHz allows the signal to go through your head, while the 2.4 GHz cannot. They call this ear to ear technology Ultra HD e2e. Scary thought about the through the head stuff… So this is where things get fuzzy for me. If they are communicating directly to each ear why do they need to shortcut through the head? Then they go on to do a test designed to show that the Signia system is superior to “Brand X”, which is actually Phonak Marvel. This is kind of interesting as the two aids compared are the KS8 (Signia 7Nx) and the KS9 (Marvel). In any case I can’t see how this Ultra HD e2e adds to the signal quality of streamed audio if it comes direct from the phone using BLE? What am I missing here? My understanding is that the BLE uses the same 2.4 GHz carrier as the Classic Bluetooth. I don’t see what they are gaining with e2e when streaming audio… Is this article a big scam?

What does seem clear is that they do seem able to use the BLE to send full range audio to both ears.

Edit: When I re-read what I wrote, I think I heard the penny drop! Perhaps what Phonak is doing is sending the multiplexed stereo signal to one hearing aid with Classic Bluetooth 2.4 GHz, and then trying to use 2.4 GHz to send it over to the other ear. If so, I can see that might be a problem for the second ear. Perhaps that is the point of the article. If so, they sure could have written it more clearly…

Sierra, that article is a hot mess IMO.

I read the frequency/signal parts of the article very carefully, and have put a lot of thought into the logic of the deconstruction below. Let me know if I missed anything or if I just seem way off base. I’m trying to be as empirical as I can about going by what is in the article and what we can corroborate with manufacturer’s specific information.

They say Signia uses the 3MHz NFMI (inductive) coupling between the two aids, and they directly say the “Brand X” uses standard BT.

That article does not say or even imply anything about BLE. Not sure where you got that, except from a loose association with “bilateral direct streaming”. They said both the Signia and BrandX are capable of that, but then turn around and talk about receiving audio on one HA (via whatever) and then transmit it to the other side, and in the case of Signia, they use the e2e NFMI. In the case of “Brand X”, they say they use BT.

But just above that they say vaguely that “…until recently, Signia was the only major hearing aid company to offer both the full exchange and processing of bilateral audio signals along with bilateral direct streaming.” I think they’re trying to imply by association that Signia is using bilateral direct streaming, but it’s unclear that it’s what was used for the music streaming in the tests. Furthermore, they use the sneaky phrase ‘bilateral sharing’ at different times from ‘bilateral streaming’, as in: “Different methods, however, can be used for the bilateral sharing of audio signals.”

What it all suggests to me is that Signia, like Phonak, uses the standard BT A2DP music profile to stream to one ear and then each transmits it to the other using their different protocols. Their mention of bilateral direct streaming nearby is perhaps in the (unmentioned) context of proprietary streaming, as with the TV Connector, for both them and “Brand X”. (I’m going out on a small limb here, since I really don’t know what other streaming peripherals Signia has.

One other thing: They do make a point of saying they used an iPhone for the test, but they don’t say anything about whether they use Bluetooth A2DP or MFI for the transmission. They again mention “bilateral streaming” but they do so only in the intro paragraph, and they do it very non-noncommittally in passive voice. Moreover, they complicate it by mixing it with that sneaky phrase “bilateral … sharing”. Note they say concretely that both products have “bilateral … sharing”, but when the mention streaming, they qualify it with “… bilateral streaming available”. That disclaimer deprecates the argument that they’re actually talking about bilateral streaming. Here’s their intro paragraph:

“Given that there are only two major manufacturers who have hearing aid products with both bilateral full-audio data sharing, and direct bilateral streaming available, we designed a comparative research project to evaluate the effectiveness of the streaming of these instruments.”

Nothing in the actual “Methods:” section commits to whether they were using Bluetooth A2DP or some other streaming methods, and definitely nothing about BLE.

As to your e2e question, IMO the advantage with e2e (NFMI) coupling over any other side-to-side transmission is that presumably their 3MHz signal uses A LOT less energy than a 2.4GHz signal. Also, it’s way lower-power (and may be cheaper) than doing direct BT A2DP to both sides. There are possibly latency advantages as well.

Here’s a reputable publisher with a little more about Marvel wireless technology.

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I will reply in more detail tomorrow, but two quick comments. In other places Signia claims they use Bluetooth Low Energy to stream to from MFi iPhones to the aids.

“Signia “made for iPhone” hearing aids connect directly to your iPhone, iPad or iPod so that you can stream your phone calls and music directly into your hearing aids. With an easy pairing, intuitive usage and high energy efficiency via the special “Bluetooth Low Energy” protocol, your hearing aids become wireless stereo headphones”

And there is my rough at home test. If I open the door of one hearing aid while my iPhone is streaming music, the music continues in the other aid. Doesn’t matter which door I open. This seems pretty conclusive to me that they are independently streaming the left and right channels to each aid. I also see that they pair separately to my iPhone. If I pull the battery on one of them or it goes dead, I loose the individual aid, not both of them.

And I think the 3 MHz Ultra HD e2e stuff is a red herring in the article. It has nothing to do with the streaming of music or phone audio to the aids. It is used for aid to aid communication to audio transfer from one side to the other.

I looked at that article on the Marvel, and it is not really clear to me how they are getting the streamed audio to both ears. They say:

“with audio streaming, we have created a proprietary extension for the Bluetooth Classic A2DP signal, in order to provide binaural listening.”

Seems clear they are using some modification of Bluetooth Classic, so I would assume the carrier is 2.4 GHz. It is not clear how they get it to both ears though. Send it to one aid and then send it across to the other? If so, that is going to have issues getting through the head. I guess it depends on what kind of a modification to the Bluetooth that they have done. That said since they have no control of what the phone is doing the modification does not seem possible in the phone to aid signal. It must be in the ear to ear communication?

Yeah they’re really vague about it. Proprietary. Could be a separate proprietary protocol using that Sonova RF chip the Phonaks have, could just be another BT relay like the Signia article asserts.

The 3MHz e2e stuff is relevant when you’re streaming from an Android device or anything else that doesn’t support MFi audio. Then they have to receive it with BT A2DP and stream it to the other ear.

I think I’ve answered some of my own question. From rereading the ASHA standard, it the higher speed aspect of BT5 PHY 2M is highly recommended. The long range aspect (PHY Coded) is not used. I believe, although I’m fuzzy that extended requiring advertising is required and needs a data length capacity of at least 167 bytes (“standard” is 31 bytes) I still don’t know if any or all of these features are updateable by firmware upgrade or not, but likely moot point as I doubt it’s going to happen. Although the ASHA standard is BT4.2, I highly doubt there are any BT 4.2 phones out there that have the required features. Heck, Google doesn’t even make ASHA available in Pixel 2 and it has BT 5