Rick Bogart of Ellisys shows Packetcraft’s Auracast™ broadcaster alongside Vanguard protocol analyzer
American Association of Audiology hosted their annual conference/exhibition in Seattle this year. Packetcraft went to demo our leading-edge bluetooth software alongside Ellisys while prioritizing market research and educating audiologists on the difference between Bluetooth classic and LE Audio. While at the show, Vince Holton from Incisor Magazine sat down with Packetcraft’s VP of Business Development, Jason Hillyard, to discuss the evolution of Bluetooth and the hearing aid.
Incisor: Jason, thank you for sitting down with us to day to discuss the evolution of Bluetooth hearing assistance devices and what Packetcraft is doing to enable the next generation of innovation.
Jason: Thank you Vince. It truly is a privilege and a career highlight to be able to bring cutting edge technology to such a worthy application. It’s not every day that the tech world is able to improve accessibility for loved ones and friends, and that brings immense satisfaction. Packetcraft consists of a team of dedicated embedded software experts, many of whom have been in the Bluetooth industry for years, and we quietly operate behind the scenes ensuring the latest features and functions of Bluetooth quickly get to market. Today, we are steadfastly working with semiconductor and product companies to enable the next generation of hearing devices using Bluetooth LE Audio.
Incisor: That’s outstanding to hear. To start, tell us a little about how you work with both chip companies and end product companies, I’m curious how you engage two distinct types of customers.
Jason: Great question. First, we are working with some of the biggest names in the semiconductor industry, some whom we have permission to mention like Nordic Semiconductors and EM Microelectronics, and others that we are not able to discuss. We work with these leading companies to augment their internal development to deliver Bluetooth host, controller and/or LC3 codecs based upon the latest Bluetooth specifications, including LE Audio. However, because we can offer our software in full source code form, a good number of product companies have engaged us as well to support leading-edge Bluetooth features and/or customization so they can bring even greater innovation and product differentiation to market, and we support them with full software access and expert support.
Incisor: Thank you for the clarification there, it is subtle and I think it will help our audience understand how and when to engage Packetcraft directly. Can you mention some of the companies you are working with in the audiology space?
Jason: Though nothing public has been announced, I am pleased to share that Packetcraft is directly licensing to multiple product companies in the hearing assistance space, 2 of which are amongst the top 5 hearing aid companies.
Incisor: I see some Ellisys protocols analyzers being used here. Do you work closely with Ellisys?
Jason: We do. Many of our customers are also customers of theirs, which is a nice advantage for everyone. We have quite a few of their tools, not just their analyzers, but their EBQ tester which provides validation and development capabilities for qualification testing. As you can see the Ellisys Bluetooth Trackers are in high use here. Their Bluetooth Vanguard has some unique, advanced features specifically designed to help with testing LE Audio features. We enjoy a great working relationship with them; they’re a great partner to have onboard.
(Highlight of the demo’s featured at HearTech23 in Seattle, WA for the audiology community)
Incisor: So do you deal with Ellisys outside of the lab as well?
Jason: Yes, in fact they are demonstrating our software with their analyzers at the Hear Tech 2023 Expo this week, up in Seattle. We have some of our staff there as well, so the demo in the Ellisys booth should be very interesting and informative for attendees.
Incisor: Thank you for that insight, and congratulations. It’s great to know, indirectly, that indeed products are in fact in development in the hearing assistance market. Please tell us why LE Audio is an important technology for this segment.
Jason: To begin with, LE Audio is a significant evolution to Bluetooth Classic Audio in several ways, as it delivers low power, high-quality wireless audio with both multi-stream and broadcast support. Further, LE Audio leverages a more capable audio codec [LC3] that enables audio over the Bluetooth LE radio. These new capabilities are generally going to improve all wireless audio experiences, from earbuds to headphones, to wireless microphones to the hearing assistance devices and infrastructure. What is especially applicable to improving hearing accessibility is Auracast broadcast audio functionality and the adoption of LC3 as the new standard for audio codecs which will help migrate us away from the many proprietary codecs that emerged over the years. Elaborating further on Auracast, this new Bluetooth network topology is positioned to supplement legacy hearing loops to pipe sound directly into hearing aids from various sources especially in public venues such as airports, theaters, and museums. It also works in private settings such as gyms and restaurant/bars where TVs are available quite often without sound and one can select the audio stream and listen conveniently and clearly using their own device. These same applications are also enabled for those wearing earbuds too, so this technology serves a wide spectrum of people and helps bridge the gap.
Incisor: What sort of hearing assistance products are going to use LE Audio?
Jason: The most obvious hearing assistance product is the hearing aid itself. Although some hearing aids today support Bluetooth, they are either using Classic Bluetooth or are using Bluetooth LE in a non-standard way, and this leaves a lot of room for improvement by transitioning to LE Audio. We also see hearing infrastructure equipment that currently uses hearing loop technology evolving to use LE Audio and Auracast. Other devices in the works are hearing aid accessories such as TV audio broadcast adapters and wireless microphones that connect directly to a hearing aid.
Incisor: You mention the swift and growing adoption by mobile phones, how exactly do they fit into the picture?
Jason: The most obvious use case is hearing aid to mobile phone for a phone call, and this is a point-to-point connection that we see supported today. Naturally, other audio experiences including music and video are also readily supported but traditional Bluetooth Classic didn’t have native support for multi-stream so that meant a single audio stream would connect to the right ear and then a proprietary means would deliver audio to the left ear. With LE Audio, we can now send full stereo audio by delivering synchronized audio streams to both left and right ears independently. Other applications that don’t rely on the mobile phone include hearing aid to infrastructure at say the cinema, listening to sports games at a restaurant, and sharing audio on a family members device – all of which will leverage Auracast broadcast audio and will connect to secure and non-secure streams. A mobile device may assist in selecting an audio stream, though the audio flows from source to the hearing aid directly.
Incisor: This is all very exciting and I thank you for your time today to discuss the evolution of hearing aids as we prepare for the next generation devices. Would you like to say anything else in closing?
Jason: Thank you Vince, we at Packetcraft are truly excited about this 3rd wave of technical innovation coming from Bluetooth, and we are investing and committed to helping lead the industry forward with some of the most creative and innovative new devices. We encourage those considering LE Audio to ask themselves a few questions first, are you going to differentiate your product and if so, how will you accomplish that? If you are looking for the optimal way to customize your device, then please consider Packetcraft as your software partner. Our solutions have been integrated with many chipset solutions, though our software is chipset agnostic and can leverage the standard HCI interface affording maximum flexibility in chipset selection. Our software is Bluetooth qualified and the ability to access full source code is sure to enable your product development to the fullest. To learn more about Packetcraft software and test tools, please contact us at email@example.com and visit our website to view our products.
Ellisys is a leading worldwide supplier of advanced protocol test solutions for Bluetooth®, Wi-Fi, WPAN, USB 2.0, SuperSpeed USB 3.1, USB Power Delivery, USB Type-C, DisplayPort and Thunderbolt technologies.
By providing developers with the right innovative tools at the right time, Ellisys enables these promising markets to grow in a secure and confident manner, helping to ensure rapid and wide acceptance of these technologies.
Ellisys is a member of the Symbiosys Alliance. The Symbiosys Alliance is an I/O interconnect technology group chartered to create value for its membership and for their respective customers by strategically and collaboratively aligning member products and services to current and upcoming market opportunities. More information can be found at www.symbiosys.io.
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