Wouldn’t it be great if you could get new hardware features without actually having to get new hardware? That does seem to be the magic that HTC is weaving in a leaked letter from the Taiwanese manufacturer to the US FCC regarding Bluetooth on its HTC U11 flagship. According to the letter, HTC will enable Bluetooth 5 on the HTC U11 but it will do nothing more than release a software update. No hardware changes required.
Actually, the reality is far less magical. the Bluetooth standard is just that, a standard hardware makers must comply with to provide certain features. Hardware can be advertised as complying with a certain version of the standard if it is able to meet the criteria and minimum capabilities set in the standard.
In practice, this would mean that the HTC U11 actually had hardware that was completely compatible with Bluetooth 5. Why it only shipped with Bluetooth 4.2 can be for a variety of reasons. Bluetooth 5 is still new and compatible hardware and chips only started shipping early this year. This might not have given HTC enough time to test Bluetooth 5 with the hardware plus get it certified by the FCC in time for the launch.
But better late than never, right? It’s certainly not that common to hear OEMs rolling out a software update to upgrade Bluetooth capabilities. Interestingly, HTC’s letter insists that it will not provide either the software or the source code for this update to third parties, perhaps for fear that it could be used to hack into the Bluetooth hardware at that low level. Which is what HTC will be doing anyway.
But what does Bluetooth 5 bring anyway? Aside from the usual improvement in efficiency, the new standard extends the range of Bluetooth Low Energy (LE), which is critical for IoT devices. Perhaps more interesting to end users is how Bluetooth 5 enables streaming to multiple Bluetooth devices simultaneously.