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Short-Range Wireless Connectivity to Thrive in Emerging IoT Applications

The market for short-range wireless connectivity including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 802.15.4, and NFC continues to evolve and expand its use cases in order to meet new IoT market requirements. Technical enhancements, new specifications, emerging protocols, collaborations and partnerships, as well as multi-protocol ICs, will all help propel the wireless connectivity market to more than 10 billion IC shipments by 2021, forecasts ABI Research.

“Collaborations, cooperation, and multi-protocol connectivity ICs are trends that will become increasingly important for future wireless connectivity market growth,” says Andrew Zignani, Industry Analyst at ABI Research. “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.”

While Thread was initially seen as a challenger to ZigBee for 802.15.4-based solutions, the recent ZigBee Alliance and the Thread Group collaboration shows that both technologies will help each other grow. Many ZigBee devices will have the ability to upgrade to Thread, and while one major limitation of ZigBee 3.0 is that IP is not supported, collaboration means that this can be circumvented by utilizing the ZigBee 3.0 application profiles above the Thread networking protocol. A complete solution with an end-to-end certification is expected before the end of 2016, which will provide the market with an IP-based 802.15.4 radio solution that takes advantage of the strength of both organizations.

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, continues Zignani. 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.

Wi-Fi is also branching out into low-power IoT applications through HaLow. Though it has a number of advantages versus competing technologies, it will not be an easy task for the technology to carve out significant market share due to its late arrival, strong competition, and challenges it faces in building a Sub-1 GHz Wi-Fi ecosystem. However, Wi-Fi will continue to evolve in other areas, with 802.11ad (WiGig) expected to hit the mainstream in 2017, and other protocols like 802.11ax set for rapid growth upon its arrival in 2019. In addition, many low-power Wi-Fi chipsets and modules targeting the IoT exist on the market today from suppliers such as GainSpan.

“Qualcomm is in a prime position to take advantage of the wireless connectivity markets new trends,” concludes Zignani. “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 companys portfolio, better target automotive applications, and make it a leading provider of connectivity solutions for almost all IoT connectivity technologies. Similar acquisitions of Broadcom’s IoT connectivity assets by Cypress, and Qorvo’s acquisition of 802.15.4 supplier GreenPeak, both highlight the growing importance of these wireless connectivity technologies in the IoT space.”

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