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IoT Drives Bullish Short-Range Wireless Forecast

November 17, 2016 By Molly White in

Rapid growth of connected IoT devices is fueling a new phase of evolution and raising growth prospects for short-range wireless communications technology, including Bluetooth, WiFi, NFC and IEEE 802.15.4 low-range wireless personal area networks (LR-WPAN). According to a new short-range wireless forecast from ABI Research, technical enhancements, new specifications, emerging protocols, collaborations, partnerships and multi-protocol ICs will spur short-range wireless IC shipments to more than 10 billion units by 2021.

Each short-range wireless communications technology has its particular strengths and weak points, ABI Research Industry Analyst Andrew Zignani highlights in a press release. “Collaborations, cooperation, and multi-protocol connectivity ICs are trends that will become increasingly important for future wireless connectivity market growth. However, each technology has its own unique strengths that suppliers and OEMs must maximize in order to take advantage of the enormous opportunities that the IoT promises.” 

Short-Range Wireless Forecast

Short-range wireless technologies from Thread Group and ZigBee Alliance initially were seen as competing solutions based on the 802.15.4 standard, but both technologies may benefit from a recent collaboration that could spur faster adoption of both technologies, ABI notes.

ZigBee 3.0 doesn’t support IP, a major drawback. But that limitation may be circumvented by using ZigBee 3.0 application profiles above the Thread networking protocol, ABI explains in its Wireless Connectivity ICs report.

Looking ahead, Thread Group and ZigBee Alliance expect to launch a complete end-to-end solution and certification path and mechanism before year end. That would put an IP-based 802.15.4-based radio solution that leverages the comparative strengths of both short-range wireless technologies on the market, a development that should benefit both industry groups.

“Further collaborations between ZigBee and other organizations, such as the EnOcean Alliance, will help drive self-powered energy harvesting IoT devices in areas such as home and building automation,” Zignani commented. 

“This will enable 802.15.4 to become the leading home automation and smart lighting technology by 2021, followed closely by Bluetooth, further enhanced by Bluetooth 5 and imminent mesh networking standardizations.”

Whither Wi-Fi? 

Wi-Fi Alliance is also expanding into low-power IoT applications via HaLow, which offers several advantages as compared to alternative solutions, according to ABI. Wi-Fi’s late entry will make things more difficult in terms of carving out significant market share amidst tough competition and the challenges it faces in creating a sub-1 GHz Wi-Fi ecosystem, however.

That said, low-power Wi-Fi chipsets and modules that can be used in IoT applications, such as GainSpan, already exist and new Wi-Fi protocols are emerging. These include IEEE 802.11ad ¨WiGig,¨ which is expected to be widely available next year, and other new protocols, such as 802.11ax, which should grow rapidly following its expected introduction in 2019, ABI says.

Turning to wireless semiconductor companies, Qualcomm stands to gain the most from new connectivity market trends, according to ABI’s ¨Wireless Connectivity ICs¨ report. “Qualcomm is in a prime position to take advantage of the wireless connectivity market’s new trends,” Zignani said.

“Its leading expertise in cellular and Wi-Fi technologies, as well as recent acquisitions of CSR for Bluetooth, and more recently, the potential acquisition of NXP for NFC and 802.15.4-based technologies, will all help fill gaps in the company’s portfolio, better target automotive applications, and make it a leading provider of connectivity solutions for almost all IoT connectivity technologies.¨

Zignani also made note of similar acquisitions that have taken place in the market space, such as Cypress acquiring Broadcom’s IoT connectivity assets and Qorvo’s acquisition of 802.15.4 supplier GreenPeak. ¨Both highlight the growing importance of these wireless connectivity technologies in the IoT space,” he commented.