Bluetooth is a marvellous technology. The world is awash with Bluetooth beacons and other devices. Bluetooth unequivocally offers a technically straightforward path to integrating new bespoke IoT products with a variety of other off the shelf devices.
There is just one catch: The licence fee.
From Guided Imports;
Why Bluetooth Is A Bad Idea For Startup Importers
Bluetooth’s directions online are a bit confusing as they are complex and involve multiple steps. I’ve simplified them below.
- Register for as an Adopter Membership – Free
- Once you’re a Bluetooth member, you must declare each Bluetooth product to ensure it complies with conditions and qualifications. This must be done so you can use the Bluetooth trademark in advertising and packaging
- For existing product designs, use the Declare & List section
- New product designs first need to be qualified, tested and then listed
- If you’re an Adopter Member, the listing fee per Bluetooth chipset is $8,000. This means, if the same Bluetooth component is used in multiple devices you are selling, this only needs to be paid once.
- Once all of this is complete, you are allowed to use Bluetooth word mark and logos on your product and advertising.
Bluetooth SIG now offers an Innovation Incentive Program for small and medium sized businesses. To qualify for this, your business must earn less than one million USD in annual revenue. If you qualify, the listing fee is discounted from $8,000 to $2,500. More information about this can be found on Bluetooth’s website, here.
If you have a large budget, an $8000+ annual license fee might not be a substantial obstacle. But an unexpected cost of this magnitude can be a substantial kick for startups, especially if you are not expecting it.
What can you do to avoid this surprise cost?
I asked a contact in the manufacturing world their opinion. His advice was, “We try to avoid using bluetooth. Don’t use bluetooth”.
When developing some classes of product, like trackers which depend on communicating with established Bluetooth devices like iBeacons, it is very difficult to avoid using bluetooth. There are also some circumstances, such as when you are developing a mobile app with no bespoke electronics, where the bluetooth fee may have effectively already been paid – though I strongly advise you to talk to a lawyer if you want to take this position.
That $8000 fee could easily become a $16,000 fee, or even a $24,000 fee, if part way through production you find your chosen Bluetooth silicon chipset is unavailable, and have to switch to a new bluetooth chipset. The world is currently experiencing an ongoing global silicon chip shortage.
The bottom line, if there is any viable alternative to Bluetooth, the best course is to do what my manufacturing contact advised, and avoid the use of Bluetooth.
What are the options?
Many IoT technologies, such as ESP32, which support Bluetooth, also support WiFi. WiFi is more complex than Bluetooth, but you are far less likely to be slammed by difficult to manage license fees.
Many innovative WiFi based approaches to circumventing savage Bluetooth license fees have been developed. Techniques which produce a user experience comparable to a Bluetooth based device, without incurring the Bluetooth tax.
If you would like help with minimising the risk of your product becoming entangled with expensive Bluetooth licensing fees, please contact Desirable Apps. We’re happy to share our learnings in depth with aspiring product developers. And of course, we can help you with other aspects of your product development, right up to connecting you with reliable people who can mass produce your new IoT device.