Open Bluetooth Intercom Standard Announced [Expert Analysis]

I’ve reviewed many helmet intercom communication devices over the past nine years and often mentioned my desire that the intercoms work easily across brands. I’d also said that I wasn’t holding my breath for an open Bluetooth intercom standard.

Cardo Systems and UClear Digital have announced that the companies will begin work on a standard intercom protocol that will used by these companies as well as Midland Radio.

Until now, cross-brand connectivity was achieved by connecting the non-matching brand’s device to other helmet intercoms via Bluetooth (BT) pairing. This meant that the odd rider’s smartphone, while connecting to the group, lost its ability to make or take phone calls and use its music-playing capability. In other words, the odd unit paired to the group via phone pairing, rather than native intercom pairing. I’ve always frowned on this type of connection, as it’s a half-hearted attempt at compatibility.

“UClear has sought for several years to work with other key players in the powersports helmet audio segment to give riders what they want and what they deserve, which is more choice of helmet audio solutions with seamless interoperability between brands,” UClear Brand Manager David Kuck told us. “Currently, there is no standard intercom protocol; each brand develops its own proprietary solution. If you have ever tried to pair two intercom brands together, you know that the process is more complicated. Certain features such as music overlay fading cease to function, and the pairing group may not save.”

“Additionally, in most cases, if you add another brand into your pairing group, then the entire group may lose advanced mesh intercom connection,” Kuck continued. “This technical complication may provide a marketing advantage for certain brands, but it is no longer acceptable, in our opinion, to continue this frustrating business practice when a little cooperation between brands can vastly improve the experience for all riders. The UClear team is elated to embark on this mission, along with Cardo and Midland, to make seamless interoperability between brands a reality for the betterment of the industry. It’s just the right thing to do, and that matters to us.”

I asked whether this new protocol would be based upon Bluetooth or mesh and was told that it would most likely be mesh-type, which I prefer after testing mesh versus Bluetooth on most brands. Range is much better, signal clarity is superior, the ability to reconnect after the occasional drop-out is seamless, and it is just so easy to link riders using mesh. If you’ve tried Bluetooth intercoms in the past, you know the challenges of the connection process.

I also asked whether this new protocol would require new hardware or will a firmware upgrade be enough. At this time, the unofficial answer is that it will probably require new hardware to be compatible.

“This collab is in the starting phase, so I can’t be precise,” Uclear’s Kuck expanded, “but I believe the interoperability will begin with mesh-capable units with BT5.2 or better chips. This means that the future releases from Cardo and UClear would be where we start the interoperability. This way, we are starting fresh with similar hardware capabilities to write the protocols. I doubt we will see retroactive capabilities be developed for legacy product.”

Cardo Systems VP of Business Development Shachar Harari added, “Having just launched our Universal Communication Solution, the announcement of our Open Bluetooth Intercom further cements our commitment to providing motorcyclists with the best solutions to communicate while riding. The new partnership will enable riders to fully enjoy seamless Bluetooth intercom connectivity across the brands and will further foster the penetration of communication solution worldwide.”

Midland did not respond to our inquiry.

Sena Technology is conspicuously absent from the consortium. We asked Sena for a comment, and this is the response:

“From its inception, Sena has examined various solutions for cross-platform intercom compatibility, with early efforts resulting in the first-ever ‘Universal Intercom’ function. After many additional feasibility studies over the years, as well as previous collaboration discussions with other intercom companies within the segment, Sena ultimately arrived at the conclusion that true cross-platform compatibility would likely always require compromise, resulting in sacrifices in performance and reductions in audio quality, intercom reliability and operating distance, to name a few. As such, Sena’s strategic focus then shifted to developing a broad network of compatible devices via collaborations with the leaders of the motorcycle industry, providing riders with a variety of intercom device options, both Bluetooth and Mesh. Sena is consistently aiming to satisfy the needs of our customers and we continue to prepare new technological advancements that will deliver even more quality intercom options for all riders.”

That’s about all we know now about the coming open Bluetooth intercom standard. We will continue to follow the progress of this collaboration and report our findings as they are announced.