OnQ Blog

LE Audio: A new age of Bluetooth audio sharing

Jan 27, 2020

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The State of Play 2019 Report, our fourth annual consumer audio study, has shown that we’ve reached a tipping point in the shift from wired to wireless audio, with more consumers than ever before choosing the freedom of wireless. Twenty years ago, Bluetooth wireless technology enabled the audio cord to be cut — ushering in a new market for wireless audio, which quickly became a success story for Bluetooth audio technology. 

Certain technologies have the power to reach across borders, cultures, interests, and generations, and forge an evolution in the way the world connects. Bluetooth audio is one of those technologies. It’s now woven into the fabric of our day-to-day lives, giving us new freedoms and fundamentally enhancing how we enjoy music.

Building on a tradition of audio innovation, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) — the standards organization for Bluetooth development — recently announced Low Energy (LE) Audio, the next generation of Bluetooth audio that is designed to, once again, transform the way we experience and connect with the world around us. To help us better understand LE Audio and what it means for end-users, we talked with our resident Bluetooth evangelist, Robin Heydon, Senior Director, Technology of Qualcomm Technologies International, Ltd.

[OnQ] What exactly is Bluetooth LE Audio?
[Robin Heydon] LE Audio enables several new use cases that will allow consumers to experience and share wireless audio in new and innovative ways. At Qualcomm, we’re excited to embrace this new age of Bluetooth and are ready to roll out LE Audio across our ecosystem, providing our customers with flexible, scalable solutions to enable them to build a new generation of devices with support for the technology.

How is Qualcomm involved in Bluetooth and the new LE Audio standard? 
For decades, Qualcomm has invented breakthrough technologies that transform how the world connects, computes, and communicates. From mobile to compute and 5G to AI, connectivity is in our DNA. In audio, we’re focusing our expertise on bringing the world powerful, immersive audio experiences. Our standards team has worked closely with the Bluetooth SIG to help define the new specification for LE Audio, chairing working groups within the Bluetooth SIG and working with others to create the interoperable specification that’s needed. We’ve been working with and driving innovations in Bluetooth connectivity for many years, and we can’t wait to help our customers build devices with these new capabilities.

How is LE Audio different from classic Bluetooth audio?
LE Audio extends the capabilities of classic Bluetooth audio. It will support both voice call and music streaming applications, and overall, extend what’s possible using Bluetooth technology. However, backward compatibility with existing Bluetooth products will still be essential and dual mode devices supporting LE Audio and Bluetooth classic audio capabilities will be fundamentally important to the overall user experience. LE Audio is designed to enhance the performance of Bluetooth audio and open up new cases. It’s a complementary technology, not a replacement. 

Can you tell us more about some of the new use cases for LE Audio?
With LE Audio, audio sharing is the new key capability that I’m particularly excited about. This will enable audio sharing in both personal and location-based applications. For example, with LE Audio, users can now share music on their smartphone with many Bluetooth speakers or headsets, so their friends and family can enjoy the same music. Location-based audio sharing can allow public spaces, such as a museum or art gallery, to share Bluetooth audio with groups of visitors at the same time to help enhance their collective experience. Or a conference center could provide audio to conference attendees in multiple languages.

In another example, cinemas could share movie audio in the native language of hearing-impaired visitors, as well as provide audio in multiple languages to others. Using LE Audio, even bus stops can broadcast audio to announce bus arrivals for those with limited hearing or sight. This will be a transformative experience for those currently poorly served by facilities designed for non-disabled people. LE Audio will enable many new sharing experiences, helping consumers use their devices in new ways. This also opens up exciting new opportunities in the hearing aid space.

What could LE Audio mean for hearing aids?
LE Audio-based devices have the capability to replace expensive and cumbersome hearing loops, allowing more venues to provide audio to those who wear hearing aids. The technology has the potential to transform the overall hearing aid experience, enabling the development of Bluetooth hearing aids to connect to most phones and TVs, and making these devices much more accessible to people with hearing loss. 

Why are you excited by LE Audio?
I’ve been working with Bluetooth technology and the Bluetooth SIG for many years, evangelizing the technology through speaking engagements and conferences around the world. I’m very excited to see a number of use cases, such as broadcast audio that, until now, we’ve had to enable in a proprietary way but are now becoming standardized. The introduction of new audio sharing experiences across all of the product categories we support on source devices — such as phones, tablets, watches, and sink devices such as headsets and speakers — will help our customers build devices that can change the way we connect with each other and experience the world around us. 

When will LE Audio be available? 
The Bluetooth SIG has announced the new standard; however, the profiles still need to be ratified, which we expect to happen later this year. We’ve been working diligently within the Bluetooth SIG and across our business with the intent that our platforms and SoCs will be ready to support the new Bluetooth LE Audio standard from Day 0. We’re excited about supporting our customers in developing products that will define a new age of Bluetooth LE Audio.

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