The market for Bluetooth semiconductors is expected to boom by nearly 100 percent from 2011 to 2017, with the majority of the growth driven by demand for wireless combination integrated circuits (ICs) and mobile system-on-chip (MSoC) devices with integrated wireless connectivity that are used in mobile devices like smartphones and media tablets.
Worldwide shipments of ICs that include Bluetooth technology are set to rise to 3.1 billion units in 2017, up 91 percent from 1.6 billion in 2011, according to a new report entitled Bluetooth—Classic or Smart Ready from IMS Research, now part of IHS. While shipments of standalone Bluetooth chips are substantial, the market is currently dominated by combination ICs that incorporate support for multiple wireless technologies in addition to Bluetooth. However, the fastest-growing segment of the Bluetooth chip market is MSoCs, whose shipments are expected to rise by a factor of 18 from 2012 to 2017.
The graph below presents the IHS forecast of global Bluetooth-enabled chip unit shipments.
“Smartphones and media tablets are packing increasing capabilities into products that have a lower cost and a thinner form factor,” said Liam Quirke, connectivity analyst at IHS. “All this is driving demand for more highly integrated ICs, including Bluetooth-enabled connectivity chips and MSoCs. Most of the leading smartphone platforms already make use of integrated connectivity ICs, and increasingly will adopt Bluetooth-enabled MSoCs in the future.”
No blues for Bluetooth chips
Combination connectivity ICs accounted for 75 percent of total Bluetooth chip shipments in 2012. However, due to the rise of MSoCs, the combination chips will see their share of the Bluetooth market decline to 55 percent in 2017, although their shipments will continue to rise as the overall market expands.
By 2017, MSoCs will account for 23 percent of the market, up from just 2 percent in 2012 and zero in 2011. Standalone devices’ share of the market largely will remain flat, declining to 21 percent in 2017, down from 24 percent in 2011.
Combo ICs at the cutting edge
Many of today’s most popular and advanced smartphones and tablets are employing combination connectivity ICs.
For example, Apple Inc.’s iPad Mini and iPhone 5 employ Broadcom Corp.’s BCM4334 single-chip, dual-band combo device, as revealed by a dissection of the products conducted by the IHS iSuppli Teardown Analysis Service. The BCM4334 includes support for Wi-Fi and an FM radio receiver, along with Bluetooth.
Based on a virtual teardown, IHS iSuppli believes that Samsung’s new Galaxy S4 smartphone includes the Broadcom BCM4335, which integrates Bluetooth, along with the FM radio and a complete 5G Wi-Fi system.
The MSoC takes the integration of combination chips to the next level, forming a single chip that incorporates the cellular baseband, applications processor and wireless connectivity.
The release of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 family of processors in 2012 integrated these various elements, with many incorporating both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. In these components, the digital portion of the connectivity IC is integrated into the SoC, taking advantage of benefits such as less power being required by the more advanced manufacturing process. The analog counterpart is situated in a companion IC, which includes components for both Wi-Fi and FM radio.
“MSoCs benefit manufacturers by reducing design complexity while providing lower-cost mobile platform solutions,” Quirke noted. “IHS is projecting that lower-end smartphones will be quick to adopt such solutions.”