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How Wireless Technology is Evolving for IoT Apps

Smart home, beacon, wearable, and other nascent Internet of Things (IoT) applications -- including energy management and smart cities -- are to propel the wireless IoT connectivity market forward, according to the latest worldwide market study by ABI Research.

The market's trend toward multi-protocol connectivity IC adoption will ease development time, boost scale, and reduce complexity and cost for manufacturers across these different sectors in the years ahead.

"2015 witnessed a growing trend toward the development of multi-protocol connectivity SoCs for the IoT, some of which support both Bluetooth Smart and 802.15.4," said Andrew Zignani, industry analyst at ABI Research.

ABI analysts believe the devices that incorporate multi-protocol chipsets will stand the tests of time. While a product might utilize Bluetooth in the short term, a device manufacturer may want to switch to Thread in the future or have the ability to talk to multiple connectivity protocols once deployed.

Demand for Multi-Protocol Semiconductors

Moving forward, Bluetooth, ZigBee and Thread technologies could coexist in a single device. ABI Research also expects to see a growing presence of smart home hubs that incorporate multiple connectivity solutions such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Smart, Z-Wave and 802.15.4 (ZigBee/Thread).

These solutions will have a significant role to play in the development and consolidation of wireless connectivity solutions for the smart home. These hubs are already being already offered by the likes of Google, Samsung, and Huawei.

ABI Research forecasts that Bluetooth smart home devices will show a 75 percent growth rate between 2016 and 2021, though 802.15.4-based ZigBee and Thread will lead with 34 percent volume share of the home automation and 29 percent of the smart lighting markets by this time.

The ZigBee/Thread technology will also see growth in smart metering, building automation, industrial applications, and in the street lighting market -- accounting for almost one third of 802.15.4 shipments by 2021.

Wireless Connectivity Market Development

A majority of fitness and activity trackers are utilizing Bluetooth Smart, with the solution extending to medical applications moving forward. It also promises significant opportunity for beacons across numerous verticals, such as retail and advertising -- with a 129 percent growth rate between 2016 and 2021.

However, looking ahead there will be increasing competition in the connectivity sphere across numerous IoT verticals. Wi-Fi HaLow, or 802.11ah, operating in the sub-1GHz band will be of increasing importance for the Wi-Fi Alliance and chipset suppliers over the coming years as it tries to target various IoT verticals with low-power requirements.

According to the ABI assessment, these solutions will also face new challenges from LPWAN technologies, such as Sigfox and LoRa, but most importantly, by emerging cellular technologies, such as NB-IOT and eMTC.

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