Getting Your Old iMac to Speak ANT+ and BLE

Tired of running your bike training and virtual cycling system on your smartphone, tablet with tiny screens?

Constrained by the limited connectivity options and/or processing power of those smart devices?

If yes,  how about using your good old desktop platform or notebook to drive the bike trainer and connect to virtual cycling systems like Zwift or Golden Cheetah?

Tired of running your bike training and virtual cycling system on your smartphone, tablet with tiny screens?

Constrained by the limited connectivity options and/or processing power of those smart devices?

If yes,  how about using your good old desktop platform or notebook to drive the bike trainer and connect to virtual cycling systems like Zwift or Golden Cheetah?

Before proceeding with the required setup works, check the platform and connectivity pre-requisites of your bike training / virtual cycling software packages to ensure your current desktop / notebooks environment are supported.

 

Desktop Platforms:

  • Microsoft Windows 10
  • Apple Mac OS X

Connectivity Options:

  • ANT+
  • Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) available in Bluetooth 4.0 or later

This requires embedded and/or separate ANT+ and BLE hardware adapters.

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If you are equipped with new desktops and/or notebooks, probably all those pre-requisites are met. You can skip the rest of this post and start your virtual riding right away.

For those of you who are running old Apple iMac like me, getting your iMac and/or Macbook notebook to speak ANT+ and/or BLE are the major issues to be addressed.

Despite I have the latest CycleOps smart trainer that supports both ANT+ FE-C and BLE, I observed that ANT+ is still the most prevailing protocol to be used while BLE support may vary across different training/riding packages.

From a techie point of view, I will enable both the ANT+ and BLE support for testing purpose.

Follow my post below to see how I added the required connectivity support.

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1.  Check Your Current BLE Support

ANT+ driver support is already included in Mac OS X and NO additional work is required.

For BLE support, the situation varies across devices:

  • Mac mini, MacBook Air – available in 2011
  • MacBook Pro, iMac – available in 2012
  • Mac Pro – available in December 2013

 

Use the procedure below to check your Mac’s active Bluetooth version:

  1. Select About This Mac from the  menu
  2. Click on the System Report… button under the Overview Tab
  3. Select Bluetooth underneath “Hardware
  4. Look for LMP Version under “Hardware, Features, and Settings:
  5. Any value below “4.0 (0x6)” indicates that BLE is not yet supported

 

Supported Bluetooth Version in my mid-2011 iMac

Supported Bluetooth Version in my mid-2011 iMac

My desktop is a mid-2011 iMac. As expected, it lacks the required BLE support.

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2.  Order the ANT+/BLE Hardware Interfaces

ANT+ hardware interface is not included in your Mac device and purchase of separate ANT+ USB dongle is required.

You may buy either the CycleOps ANT+ USB dongle or the Garmin ANT+ USB dongle from around USD 39 to 50. To save cost, I ordered a compatible ANT+ USB dongle from Amazon at USD 15.99.

USB ANT+ Dongle from Amazon

USB ANT+ Dongle from Amazon

 

For the BLE USB dongle, I ordered mine with the Broadcom chipset from Amazon at USD 12.99.

BLE Dongle running Broadcom chip

BLE Dongle running Broadcom chip

Quite a significant saving to me.

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3.  Add ANT+/BLE Driver Support

First of all, check the version of Mac OS X.

Mine is running the latest macOS High Sierra (10.13.5) and the steps described below may vary slightly with what you have.

 

i.  Verify status of the ANT+ USB Dongle

ANT+ USB Dongle Support

ANT+ USB Dongle Support

ANT+ USB dongle detected and activated.

 

ii.  Activate the BLE USB Dongle

To enable the BLE USB dongle, I have to switch the active Bluetooth host controller to the newly installed BLE dongle. The Bluetooth Explorer tool available from the Apple Developers site is required for the Bluetooth Controller switching.

Download BlueTooth Explorer from Xcode developer tool

Download BlueTooth Explorer from Xcode developer tool

 

As I am running Xcode 9.4, I downloaded the latest “Additional Tools for Xcode 9.3” in order to get the Bluetooth Explorer.

Select Additional Tools for Xcode 9.3

Select Additional Tools for Xcode 9.3

 

Run the Bluetooth Explorer from the downloaded package and click on “HCI Controller Selector” under the Tools menu.

Change the BLE HCI Controller via Bluetooth Explorer

Change the BLE HCI Controller via Bluetooth Explorer

 

Select the “Broadcom Corp” Host Controller and clock on Activate to switch to the BLE dongle.

Select Broadcom Corp Bluetooth Host Controller

Select Broadcom Corp Bluetooth Host Controller

 

Repair all those affected Bluetooth devices (eg. Keyboard, Mouse, Trackpad, etc) as necessary.

Check for the final active Bluetooth version supported.

Active Bluetooth version after switching to BTLE dongle

Active Bluetooth version after switching to BTLE dongle

At this stage, the two USB dongles are ready for the next connectivity testing.

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4.  Smart Trainer and Cycling Software Connectivity Test

Let’s complete the connectivity testing using the most popular virtual cycling software Zwift.

I will be using the CycleOps Magnus Smart Trainer and the Wahoo TICKR Heart Rate Monitor for the exercise.

ZWIFT - Device discovery

ZWIFT – Device discovery

Here I have chosen the ANT+ protocol for the Magus Smart Trainer (Saris PWR 31626, Saris FE-C 31626). For TICKR, Bluetooth Low Energy protocol is used (TICKR 214).

 

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