Bluetooth LE Audio to Make Data Transmission to Hearing Aids Easier in Public Spaces

Bluetooth standard LE audio is being introduced as an alternative to telecoil and will make barrier-free hearing much easier without having to layout induction loops in public locations. The telecoil is a small induction pick-up coil which can be placed inside a hearing aid. The telecoil is also known as a T-coil, or T-switch. When activated, the telecoil permits coupling of the personal hearing aid to sources of electromagnetic energy including a telephone and assistive listening devices and systems. When used with the telephone, the telecoil permits a direct communication between the hearing aid and the phone without the interference of acoustic feedback. 

The introduction of new Bluetooth LE audio allows for audio sources, such as trains station announcements, to be streamed simultaneously and directly into the hearing aids of multiple users via multi-stream and location-based audio sharing. This is an ideal way for multiple hearing aid users to understand things more easily at the cinema, during their visits to the theatre while even being able to choose their seats or just pleasant evenings at home watching television.

Cinemas, theatres, churches, schools, and many other public institutions are among the places where installed induction loops or FM systems ensure barrier-free hearing. They are usually used when greater distances need to be bridged to enable those who wear hearing aids to understand things more easily, at theatre performances, for example. Specially marked seats that are usually located in the front rows use a built-in telecoil to show hearing aid users where transmission within the ring loop is possible. With Bluetooth LE Audio and the location-based audio sharing that it makes possible, it is no longer necessary to design costly ring loops to enable hearing aid users to transfer audio content directly to their hearing devices.

Peter Liu from Bose Corporation and a member of the Bluetooth SIG Board of Directors feels that location-based audio sharing can change the way we experience the world around us. For example, users can choose the audio broadcast from silent TVs in public places and places such as theatres and lecture halls can share audio to help visitors with hearing impairments and provide audio in multiple languages.

The Bluetooth standard LE Audio is equipped with advanced new signal encryption called LC audio codec (Low Complexity Communications Codec). This codec is known for its more compact data transmission that is also linked to lower power consumption. Another big advantage is that LE Audio effortlessly connects all Bluetooth-capable devices directly with each other and switching between audio source devices, such as TV and phone, takes place quite smoothly.

“Extensive listening tests have shown that LC3 improves audio quality compared to the SBC codec included in Classic Audio, even at a 50% lower bit rate,” said Manfred Lutzky, Director of Audio for Communication at Fraunhofer IIS.

It remains to be seen when hearing aids with the new specifications will be upgraded to Bluetooth LE Audio with LC3. The current Bluetooth interface can already be used to connect Bluetooth-enabled devices such as TVs, smartphones and even washing machines to the hearing aids via IFTTT (If This Than That). The direct transfer of audio representations to the hearing aids makes it much easier to understand content. Hearing aids with Bluetooth are available in various price-performance classes.