When Wi-Fi Alliance introduced Wi-Fi Direct, a wireless network specification that supports a wide array of uses that mostly invade the Bluetooth territory, everyone thought that it was going to be the end of Bluetooth technology. As interesting at it is, the technology found ways to survive and thrive in the ever-changing world of innovation and technology. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), a non-profit organization overseeing the development of bluetooth standards, designed a new technology that still has the classics of Bluetooth, but with high speed and low energy protocols.
Bluetooth Low Energy, marketed as Bluetooth Smart, aims to provide a considerably lower power consumption and cost while still maintaining the same communication range as the classic version. The first smartphone that implemented this technology was the iPhone 4S with the iBeacon, an indoor proximity sensor developed by Apple. Beacons have gone a long way from the time that it was first introduced to the market. But the bigger question is what part will the Bluetooth Smart Beacons play in the realization of the Internet of Things.
In over the last twelve months, this Bluetooth Smart Beacons have emerged as a key anchor technology in the retail industry. According to ABI Research’s latest report, these devices will play a significant role not just in commercial and retail industries, but also in Connected Homes and Personal Asset Tracking as they feed into the much larger network, the Internet of Things.
“It may surprise many to see that retail is the smallest market covered in the report. In building terms, many stores are relatively small in comparison to a corporate office or hospital, while the items being tracked i.e. consumers, are already BLE-enabled through their smartphones, further limiting the number of beacons required.” ABI senior analyst, Partric Connolly said.
The report highlights that there are several markets that will generate larger volumes of Bluetooth Smart Beacon shipments in the next five years, therefore creating a whopping 60 million unit market. ABI reports that by the end of the year, standalone Bluetooth Smart Beacons will reach an estimated 40% share. At this point, the largest component of the Bluetooth chipset market are smartphones and tablets which covered 62% of shares last year.
ABI Research director, Philip Solis said:
“End user products such as smartphones and PCs have been shifting away from standalone solutions for some time now, and smartphones have shifted to integrated platforms with Bluetooth as well.”
“On the other hand, there is a growing long tail of devices around the Internet of Things (IoT) that will gravitate towards standalone Bluetooth in many cases. The end result is that standalone Bluetooth ICs will remain steady in share and grow with the overall market.”
Bluetooth Smart Beacons have become a dominant short-range connectivity solution and has a universal penetration being widely integrated into computing and consumer electronic platforms. And as this market grows, manufacturers and developer have uncovered several other uses of such devices. “We will see silos of beacon networks emerging over the next 5 years, and larger companies like Apple and Google must consider how to aggregate this into a cohesive system, creating new revenue opportunities”, the ABI analyst said.
In addition, Bluetooth SIG predicts that by 2018, over 90% of Bluetooth-enabled mobile devices will be supporting Bluetooth Smart, and will be made compatible with Bluetooth Smart Beacons as it becomes widely used in various IoT applications. With that, the organization has defined several profiles for these low-energy devices. In 2014, a Bluetooth Smart protocol called CSR mesh was published with the purpose of supporting the growth of several sectors in the Internet of Things, particularly proximity sensing for personal and asset tracking, sports and fitness as well as healthcare.