You have probably heard of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), but if you are like me, you may not know much about ANT+. Both are low energy protocols that allow devices to wirelessly communicate. So my question is, why should you care? BLE and ANT+ are the protocols utilized for everything from heart rate monitors, to sensor toothbrushes, to home automation. Understanding how they are different helps to better judge which product brands may be a better fit for you. I will be diving deeper into whether BLE or ANT+ will reign as champion in the fitness markets and beyond in a future blog. For now, I just want to establish the characteristics of each and what makes them unique. At first glance, there does not seem to be any difference, besides the fact that if you are using a Garmin device, it is utilizing ANT+, and if you are using Fitbit or Jawbone, you are utilizing BLE. However, there is actually a significant difference: network configuration.
BLE typically utilizes a point to point (P2P) or star network configuration while ANT+ supports all types of network configurations. The best way to understand the different networks is through the way the nodes within the networks communicate. In all of these configurations, the control node is connected to either a local area network (LAN) or the Internet. In a P2P network, there is one control node that communicates with one other node. In a star network, there is one control node and each of the other nodes communicate with the control node, but not with each other. In a mesh network, the nodes communicate with the control node and are also able to communicate with each other.
Star Network Mesh network
In a mesh network, if one node can’t directly connect with another node because of distance or power limitations, it can connect indirectly through other nodes in the network. In addition, if one node goes down for any reason, there are always alternate paths for connection.
ANT+ is still primarily only used in the Android realm because Apple doesn’t yet include the ANT+ chips and hardware necessary for a connection. This difference is not as significant as the network configuration, but understanding what network configuration you can utilize on a device could be important when deciding on a purchase, especially in the fitness and home automation realm.
Look for my follow up for more information on the implications of the different network configurations and why one may be better, or just more popular, than the other.