Wireless future builds on complementary technologies from Nordic Semiconductor
While the quality of analysts’ forecasts is generally chequered, some, buck the trend. ABI Research, with over 25 years of experience of tracking the technology sector, is one of the latter. And the company says the future for Bluetooth low energy is bright ... although the short-range wireless technology won’t have things all to itself.
The company reports that the imminent release of Bluetooth 5 (which brings range and throughput enhancements), Bluetooth mesh, and support for IPv6 will boost chip shipments to five billion per year by 2021. Bluetooth low energy will be the fastest growing wireless connectivity technology, achieving 34 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2016 and 2021 to reach around 1.35 billion shipments per year. While Bluetooth technology’s share of the market will be impressive, other short- range technologies (for example, Wi-Fi, IEEE 802.15.4, Near Field Communication (NFC), and Z-Wave) will play a significant role in boosting the market for short-range wireless to over ten billion shipments per year by 2021.
The company reports that a key area where Bluetooth low energy and other short-range technologies will share the market is the smart home. ZigBee and Thread—protocols based on IEEE 802.15.4 layers—promoters are collaborating which will grow the base for both technologies. While Wi-Fi, already established in many homes as a networking technology, is extending its reach to smart home applications via a low-power variant.
These established mesh networking technologies—which have, for example, been endorsed by key industry players for smart lighting applications—will continue to thrive but will face stronger competition once Bluetooth mesh is rolled out. Bluetooth technology will also gain market share through its smartphone and tablet interoperability, an advantage most competing technologies don’t share and one which allows consumers to control all the lights in their home from a single handset.
ABI Research’s Industry Analyst, Andrew Zignani, suggests other characteristics of Bluetooth low energy wireless will differentiate the technology, explaining: “OEMs can utilize Bluetooth’s throughput advantage versus [IEEE] 802.15.4 and lower power consumption versus Wi-Fi to create new and unique use cases that separate them from competing connectivity solutions.”
The company also suggests chips that combine different protocols will become increasingly important citing an example of Bluetooth low energy working with NFC to securely pair ‘headless’ Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Ultra low power consumption will also become more important as will reference designs and development tools.
While the smart home offers significant growth, ABI Research says it’s beacons that represent one of the largest opportunities for Bluetooth low energy. The company explains that by 2021, it will be the third largest market for Bluetooth devices, and the fastest growing of all segments.
Retail applications of beacons grab the headlines, but the future of Bluetooth low energy beacon shipments is not in that sector says the company. The volume of shipments made in the personal tracking and real-time location system (RTLS)/asset tracking markets will easily surpass those in retail. The overall Bluetooth low energy beacon market continues to grow rapidly with shipments set to break 500 million units per year by 2021.
Elsewhere, ABI Research expects to see Bluetooth low energy combine with Low Power Wireless Area Network (LPWAN) technologies to support large scale deployments in smart cities.
The company says the new 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) IoT standards—such as Narrow Band-IoT (NB-IoT)—will account for more than 50 percent of cellular IoT radio node shipments by 2021. NB-IoT alone will comprise one third of cellular IoT shipments.
But rather than replacing non- 3GPP LPWAN technology, ABI Research suggests the new 3GPP standards will again complement established solutions.
The new standards make it relatively easy to configure a Long Term Evolution (LTE) network through a software upgrade to the existing LTE radio interface, which is why ABI Research expects rapid growth and worldwide deployment of NB-IoT to start as soon as 2017.
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