ANT+ to Bluetooth Simple Bridge, CABLE

IMG_5619An iOS device can be a pain to work with in regards to indoor training Apps and ANT+ sensors.  This is especially true for people who have mostly Garmin sensors.  Garmin sensors only transmit over ANT+.  Furthermore, there is limited space to connect things on iOS devices and even less on the new iPhone 7.  That leaves the lightning port as very valuable real estate.  We are going to look at the options that iOS users have when connecting ANT+ sensors to iPhones or iPads.  We will specifically talk about the cheapest connection option recently created by North Pole Engineering.  You can watch the video below if you want the down and dirty version instead of all the reading below.  Don’t forget to subscribe to our Youtube Channel!

Background

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Prime Time Real Estate.

iOS users can be in a bit of pickle when it comes to connected ANT+ devices to The Sufferfest Training Centre, Zwift, or Trainer Road.  There is no onboard ANT+ receiver on any iPad or iPhone ever created.  A large portion of cyclists who start indoor training only have ANT+ sensors and they are most likely Garmin ANT+ sensors.  This leaves a person with a few decisions to make.  They can buy bluetooth sensors, purchase the Wahoo Dongle, or use an ANT+ to Bluetooth bridge.  Each decision comes with pros and cons.  Today, we are looking at the CABLE made by North Pole Engineering.

CABLE

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CABLE App

The CABLE costs $59.99 and stands for Connect ANT+ to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).  (Purchase CABLE)  It isn’t the first bluetooth bridging device created.  4iiii might of been the first one made available to the commercial masses with the Viiiiva Heart Rate Monitor. The concept is simple really.  The user connects the ANT+ sensors to the CABLE device using an App as an intermediary.  The CABLE device then converts that signal into a usable BLE 4.0 signal.  It can convert cadence sensors, speed sensors, combined cadence/speed sensors, heart rate sensors, and power meter signals (pretty much any cycling sensor transmitting ANT+).  By doing this, it allows the iOS user free access to their lightning port.

iOS connection real estate can be an important factor for some users.  The new iPhone 7 only has one input; the lightning port.  This means iPhone 7 users can be in a bit of pickle if they have headphones or want to use an HDMI output for the big screen.  This problem is further exasperated with our next option, the Wahoo ANT+ Dongle.

Other Options

Screenshot 2017-01-21 19.57.11The number one option people use is the Wahoo ANT+ dongle.  This is a great option and still the ONLY iOS option that can do Fitness Equipment Control (FE-C) over ANT+.  At this point, all smart trainer users can stop reading my article now.  Just pick up your Apple Lightning to 30-Pin Adapter with your Wahoo dongle and you are done.  CABLE does not have FE-C bridging capability yet.  However, the key word is “yet”.  They are looking at piping in FE-C through the bluetooth channel in the next few months.  I’ll provide an update to this article if bluetooth bridging of ANT+ FE-C is implemented in the future.

Screenshot 2017-01-21 19.40.194iiii also makes an ANT+ to bluetooth bridge called the Viiiiva Heart Rate Monitor.  It servers as both a heart rate monitor and a bluetooth bridge.  This price tag is a bit higher than the CABLE at $79.99.  I haven’t personally used the Viiiiva bridge, but I do have concerns about putting a bluetooth device on my chest.  This means my ANT+ sensors located behind me have to get around my body and connect to a device on my chest.  Bluetooth is notorious for Cross-Body Interference because it cannot pass through water well.  Get all sweaty when you workout?  Well, a bluetooth bridge on your chest may not be the best location.

The last option is to buy new sensors.  This seems like one the less likely options, but it is still an option.  This is one of the more expensive costs.  The Wahoo Speed and Cadence Bundle costs $69.99.  The Wahoo TICKR costs $49.99.  That is a grand total of 119.98 but you do get sensors that transmit both BLE 4.0 and ANT+.  You can use the Wahoo sensors indoors with your training apps and outdoors with your Garmin head unit.

How it Works

There were initial connection issues with my CABLE connecting to my ANT+ sensors.  I was positioned on top of my bike trying to connect to the speed and cadence sensor below.  I didn’t realize it had a proximity setting built in.  The proximity setting doesn’t allow the CABLE to connect to just any ANT+ sensor.  The CABLE needs to be within a foot of your transmitting ANT+ Sensor.  It is a great idea because you wouldn’t want to connect to your friends ANT+ sensors if they were near by.

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In App Connections

The App for Cable can be found on the North Pole Engineering website.  The App and whole setup process was really simple to use.  You can see an example of that in my video above.  Basically, you open the CABLE App, give the CABLE a tap to wake it up, and then place it on the outline on your iOS screen.  The screen lights up green and you are ready to connect sensors.

Sensor connections were really quick.  I gave the bicycle cranks a spin to wake up my  Garmin sensors and the CABLE picked them up in the App within 5 seconds.  I was interested to see that the CABLE also picked up my ANT+ signal from my Stages Power Meter.  Again, it is going to pick up any ANT+ signal within that one foot radius.  This is only a problem for me, because I have literally 8 sensors on my bike I use to test the Apps and training equipment with.  A normal users wouldn’t have all of those sensors.

Once we have our connections, we need to tap on the speed sensor and set the wheel size.  That will allow the CABLE App to also display your reported speed for your sensor.  We complete the connection process then close out the CABLE App.  The CABLE has it’s assignment and is ready go.  You then open up whatever training App you want to use and you are ready to pick up the bluetooth signal.  I don’t think you could design anything easier to use.

Limitations

The CABLE does have some limitations.  The first limitation is already mentioned above; no FE-C conversion for smart trainers.  The second limitation applies to anything bluetooth.  You need to keep the CABLE within bluetooth range of your App.  You cannot have this sensor across the room.  I didn’t have any communication issues when testing it out.  I basically put the sensor on the floor near my rear wheel.  The signal easily passed to The Sufferfest Training Centre.

Summary

The CABLE operates as it should and does it very easily.  There are few improvements that can be made in the future.  I noticed that it didn’t consistently display sensor ID’s for the speed sensor, but I could see the other ones and could deduce which was which.  I would prefer the sensors to be labelled CABLE Speed or CABLE Cadence when it populates to training Apps.  That would make this device nearly mistake proof.  Would I buy it?  I sure would, especially if I was a virtual power user with an iOS device.

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson

Aaron served in the military for 20 years. Multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired from the military after 20 years of service to take care of our three small children in 2013 as a Stay At Home Dad.

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