Ever wonder if the headlines for projected growth of certain technologies in the wireless and Internet of Things (IoT) markets are realistic? Ask the antenna manufacturers; they are involved in the design of IoT devices from concept all the way to certification and launch. As early predictions for the IoT spiraled wildly upwards, antenna manufacturers saw the true demand in terms of orders placed, and have an insider’s view into what’s real and what’s hype, based on requests from device manufacturers. Using this same logic, expect to see a slow and steady increase in IoT adoption rather than a hockey-stick growth curve in 2017.
That doesn’t mean that the market will creep along — there will be plenty of advancements to keep things interesting. Across the industry, four main trends will emerge in 2017:
- More antennas will be needed to drive the demands of today’s IoT applications and the expectations of the end users.
- Smaller form factors will emerge. As IoT devices are embraced by more industries, manufacturers will be looking to shrink device footprint, and antennas will follow suit.
- The cost of antennas will drop, spurred by greater economies of scale as device demand increases
- Greater performance capabilities will be required in every corner of the market as the demand for speed and capacity grows.
Beyond these general trends, we’ll also see some technology-specific trends emerge:
- LTE cellular systems will continue to incorporate two cellular antennas instead of one to enable high-speed capabilities. Two antennas for MIMO communications will not be required when planning for the lower category type LTE devices such as CAT1 and CATM1. For CAT4 and above, two antennas are required in order to meet the specifications required for the higher speed and throughput systems.
- Wi-Fi — now over 20 years old — will be getting some attention, as we’ll be seeing more MIMO antenna systems emerge. The Second Wave of 802.11ac is coming online in the form of the new Multi-User, Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) technology. In the IoT realm, MU-MIMO means multiple devices can talk to the access point simultaneously rather than Wi-Fi’s historical one-client-at-a-time communications. MU-MIMO has the potential to greatly increase wireless network throughput, making a big difference in dense, high-capacity networks.
- Other ISM-band solutions including LoRa, LPWAN, Sigfox, and Ingenu are being considered and designed into certain applications. These low-power technologies can deliver longer battery life and allow long-range communications at a low bit rate among devices. Standards are still emerging in this area, especially in the LoRa and LPWAN spaces, and although uptake for these networks is slower than marketing hype suggested they would be, it is steady, and some interesting use cases are emerging.
- Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), NFC, and other technologies adopted from the smartphone industry are being utilized in the IoT space as well, and costs will continue to drop as volume grows.
- In the satellite arena, multiple new satellites — including China’s Beidou and Russia’s GLONASS — are being expanded to support navigation services as an enhancement to GPS. GNSS antennas will need to have wider bandwidth to offer more accurate location and navigation services that are also helping support connected car efforts.
- The connected car is seeing a big push from the car makers. Consumers expect the latest and greatest technologies that they see in the smartphones and tablets to be available when they get into the car and turn on the ignition. Tesla has already led the way with a certain level of autonomous driving, and Uber and Google have started their trials for complete autonomous solutions. These solutions require a new level of robust, secure, and reliable wireless technologies, including antennas.
Antennas will play a huge role in the growth of the IoT as market growth demands more antennas in smaller spaces, at lower costs, and with increased performance. In the antenna market itself, we’ll see strides forward in terms of innovation in materials and design to keep pace with market demand. Continue to keep a close eye on where antenna manufacturers are focusing their attention to get a true gauge of market success.