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Wireless Technology Trends will Fuel New IoT Apps

Wireless communications technology continues to transform the telecom landscape. Projected growth across the smart home, wearables, beacons, healthcare, smart cities, automotive, and commercial building automation, will help accelerate the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth share of device shipments.

According to the latest worldwide market study by ABI Research, Internet of Things (IoT) end markets will represent 31 percent of total Bluetooth and 27 percent of Wi-Fi device shipments in 2024 -- that's up from 13 percent and 10 percent respectively in 2018.

Wireless Technology Market Development

Smartphones will continue to be important markets for both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, however, when it comes to the Bluetooth shipments, the IoT market is expected to overtake the smartphone market for the first time in 2024 as its share of the market falls to less than 30 percent.

Furthermore, the share of smartphones as a proportion of Wi-Fi device shipments is also set to fall below 40 percent by 2024.

"Bluetooth will continue to grow in other areas, such as speakers, headsets, mobile and PC accessories, and both technologies will continue to push into other consumer electronics devices such as connected toys and home entertainment. However, the IoT is beginning to take an increasingly significant share of the market," said Andrew Zignani, principal analyst at ABI Research.

Key IoT opportunities for Bluetooth are asset management and location services in devices such as beacons and personal trackers. These devices are anticipated to grow from around 2 percent of the Bluetooth market in 2018 to over 8.5 percent by 2024.

Bluetooth enabled wearable devices are also expected to break the 400 million device barrier by 2024, with increased traction in smartwatches, activity trackers, smart clothing, and hearables. Also, Wi-Fi-enabled wearables are expected to reach over 250 million units by this time.

The smart home will be one of the fastest-growing markets for both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies. Wi-Fi-enabled smart home devices are expected to grow from 5 percent in 2018 to nearly 16 percent by 2024 and Bluetooth will rise from 4 percent to 13 percent in the same forecast period, with traction in voice-control front ends, smart appliances, smart lighting, sensor devices, video cameras, and others.

From a Wi-Fi perspective, Wi-Fi 6 has great potential within the IoT space, thanks to new enhancements such as target wake time, OFDMA, and narrowband implementations. However, ABI Research believes that the transition away from 802.11n in favor of Wi-Fi 6 will take some time.

According to the ABI assessment, 802.11n is a very well-established technology available at very low cost from a wide number of vendors while new chipsets driving down power consumption are continuing to arrive at the market. Many industry players are still having product discussions leveraging 802.11n and expect this to continue for some time.

In addition, some regions, such as China, are more conservative on newer technologies. Much of the initial marketing around Wi-Fi 6 has been at the higher end with limited focus on IoT applications.

While this is understandable given the initial rollout in networking, laptop and smartphone clients, much needs to be done to educate the industry around the other benefits that Wi-Fi 6 can bring about for battery constrained IoT devices.

However, as 802.11ax chipset prices fall and vendors refine their product lines to support IoT clients, this is likely to change. ABI Research expects the IoT market to transition toward Wi-Fi 6 in earnest within 2-3 years.

Outlook for Wireless Technology Innovation

Chipset availability for 802.11ah -- also known as Wi-Fi HaLow -- is still very limited. Many HaLow ICs are still in development and most of these are from startup companies -- in fact, many of the traditional Wi-Fi IC vendors are not backing the technology and do not have any HaLow ICs on the market.

However, the first products are finally beginning to arrive, and the next 12-18 months will be crucial in establishing HaLow’s position in the IoT landscape.

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