Enterprise next for Bluetooth tech


Bluetooth wireless’ growth continues unabated and Low Energy technology leads the way by opening up alternative markets

This year, nearly four billion devices with Bluetooth technology will ship worldwide, finding uses in factories, homes, offices, transportation systems, and helping support our wirelessly-connected future.

Initially, Bluetooth technology was used for audio streaming, and later in applications such as wireless speakers and in-car infotainment systems. The 2010 introduction of Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE) extended the wireless technology to low-throughput data transfer applications in sports and healthcare devices, computing peripherals, and accessories.

Today, the Internet of Things (IoT) is significantly multiplying demand for Bluetooth LE chips. In its forecasting report, Bluetooth Market Update 2018, the Bluetooth SIG predicts that in 2022, around 5.2 billion Bluetooth chips will be shipped, up from 3.6 billion in 2017. Today, 85 percent of Bluetooth chips include LE technology, 13 percent of which are Bluetooth LE-only chips of the kind found in smart devices such as wearables, lighting, and PC peripherals. In 2022, 97 percent of Bluetooth chips will include LE technology of which some 33 percent will be Bluetooth LE-only devices.
It seems the battery-friendly variant is proving quite a hit.

Key market expansion

Bluetooth LE chip shipments are being boosted across a range of product sectors. For example, shipments of Bluetooth LE-powered products in the key markets of sports & fitness, health & wellness, and peripherals & accessories are forecast to increase from 550 million shipments in 2018 to 850 million in 2022.

Bluetooth LE is also enabling new markets. For example, by using a broadcast topology, the technology can be used for location and asset-tracking in hospitals and factories, and beacon-based indoor navigation to guide visitors around an area or send retail information to their smartphones. These so-called location services are expected to increase more than four-fold, from a relatively low base, boosting chip shipments from 90 million in 2018 to 400 million by 2022.

Bluetooth mesh, a new development for Bluetooth LE introduced in mid-2017 and targeting smart-building networks, is also predicted to drive chip sales. The technology will make it easier
to configure, monitor, and automate building systems—such as lighting, heating, ventilation & air conditioning (HVAC), occupancy, and security—to optimize a building’s energy use, and reduce operating and maintenance costs. The report notes that building these networks is expected to boost chip shipments in the sector from 170 million in 2018 to 520 million by 2022.

Accelerating connectivity
Market sectors where Bluetooth LE is already established are set to exhibit good growth through diversification. Wearables, for example, will extend into the enterprise sector in the form of smart glasses and wearable scanners for workers. Over 100 million enterprise wearable devices are expected to ship in 2022.

Elsewhere, specialized healthcare wearables—providing continuous updates on patients’ conditions—will increase by 28 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the next five years. And in the home, Bluetooth-based consumer robots, to vacuum homes and mow lawns, are forecast to reach nearly 80 million in the same year.

Another significant area for Bluetooth-connected devices is smart industry, where sensor networks can lower equipment downtime by enabling predictive maintenance, as well as track assets and output in manufacturing environments. Bluetooth smart-industry devices are expected to increase by a factor of seven between 2017 and 2022 to
push LE chip shipments to 253 million per annum. In the home, there are two streams promoting growth. One is the increase in wirelessly-connected appliances, toys, and entertainment devices, the other is the use of mesh technology for home-automation systems to control lighting and heating as well as security cameras and door locks. Lighting is expected to be a leading use case with 54 percent CAGR predicted over the next five years. Overall, home-automation products will use 505 million Bluetooth LE chips a year by 2022, up from 152 million this year.

Different applications demand different capabilities from the Bluetooth LE chip. A PC mouse is a simple application requiring a low-cost wireless chip. A more complex application such as smart lighting demands a mid-level chip while a complex product such as a premium wearable demands a high-end Bluetooth LE chip to support its sophisticated operation.

Nordic Semiconductor offers proven solutions for Bluetooth LE application. Its nRF52 Series, supports Bluetooth 5, and ranges from the entry-level nRF52810 SoC, through the mid-range nRF52832, up to the high-end nRF52840. Each device is price/performance optimized for a particular
set of applications.

Accelerating connectivity

Bluetooth LE chip shipments are being lifted by new enterprise wearable applications, including the healthcare sector