Bluetooth turns 20, and what a ride it’s been

February 1, 2018 Jim Katsandres, Bluetooth SIG

As Bluetooth celebrates its 20th anniversary, 2018 is already a standout year for the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) and its members. When the SIG was founded in 1998, it was made up of a handful of companies solely focused on wire replacement for mobile voice and data. Today, the SIG has a roster of over 33,000 member companies that are dedicated to improving and perfecting a flexible, reliable, and secure wireless connection for a wide range of innovative solutions, from wireless audio to wearables and asset tracking to building automation.

The spec couldn’t have reached this milestone without the SIG’s member companies and their ongoing dedication to creating next-generation technology. Since CES is the global stage where many SIG members introduce Bluetooth powered innovations, the SIG deemed fitting to kick off the anniversary activities earlier this month.

Walking the CES show floor, it was evident the ubiquity of Bluetooth products, and how far Bluetooth technology has advanced and expanded since the inception of the protocol. Before Bluetooth, the wireless audio and connected device markets did not exist. Now, nearly 4 billion Bluetooth devices are expected to ship in 2018 across a number of consumer, commercial, and industrial markets.

Looking at the past two decades, it’s striking to see the ability of member companies to use Bluetooth as a foundation to build products that continually create and define new markets. Bluetooth now enables intelligent automation across multiple emerging markets, including smart buildings, smart industry, and beyond. Let’s look at the markets where Bluetooth plays a key role:

Phone, tablet, and PC market: Phones, tablets, and PCs have become portals through which people rely heavily. Bluetooth is the key to controlling networks of IoT solutions and making them accessible to everyone. 2.3 billion Bluetooth phones, tablets, and PCs will ship in 2018.

Audio and entertainment market: Bluetooth has changed the way that we consume media and experience the world. Bluetooth speakers will account for 66% of all speaker shipments this year, which is only a fraction of the 1.2 billion Bluetooth enabled audio and entertainment devices that will ship in 2018.

Automotive market: Bluetooth products have brought new levels of safety to our roads and more convenience to the in-car experience and are now enabling new use cases that increase fuel efficiency, protect drivers from the effects of fatigue, and better connect cars and drivers to the cities around them. Bluetooth will come standard in 86% of all new cars, trucks, and SUVs shipped in 2018.

Connected device market: Bluetooth Low Energy (LE), introduced in 2010, is powering the connected device market, which is projected to ship 780 million Bluetooth enabled devices in 2018. It’s this spec that is helping make the IoT vision a reality.

Smart building market: The 2017 release of Bluetooth mesh and recent advancements in Bluetooth broadcasting make intelligent building automation at scale a reality. With whole-building coverage now possible, Bluetooth is expanding the definition of the smart building by enabling indoor positioning and location services that focus on enhancing the visitor experience, increasing occupant productivity, and optimizing space utilization. 75% of the top 20 retailers have already deployed location services, and 815 million Bluetooth smart building devices are expected to ship in 2022.

Smart industry market: Bluetooth is leading the convergence of industry and information that will pave the way for the next industrial revolution. Forecasts project a 10X growth in annual shipments of Bluetooth smart industry devices by 2022. These industrial solutions will connect critical components of a manufacturer’s value stream, keeping machines, people, and processes in lockstep, while driving new levels of efficiency, productivity, and safety.

Smart city market: Bluetooth enhances the visitor experience and creates rich, personalized experiences for users. According to proximity.directory, 84% of global airports, 93% of MLB stadiums, and 75% of NFL stadiums are projected to be using beacons by 2019.

Smart home market: Whether connecting TVs to soundbars or PCs to keyboards, Bluetooth technology has been at the heart of the connected home for years. With 600 million Bluetooth smart home devices forecasted to ship in 2018 alone, Bluetooth is now helping deliver the promise of the smart home.

Smart Building and Smart City are currently seeing huge growth, and are markets where Bluetooth can make a significant impact on the daily lives of businesses and residents. For example, the London’s Gatwick Airport has installed about 2000 beacons in two of its terminals that leverage Bluetooth’s broadcasting feature technology to provide travelers with an augmented reality tool that guides them through the airport. Miami International Airport is also leading the charge in deploying beacons and sensors for smoother operations and traveler experience. Using data collected from the beacons and sensors, the airport’s app employs Bluetooth wayfinding capabilities to give passengers information about their gate, flight times, and baggage collection area.

With Bluetooth mesh now enabling the deployment of large-scale device networks, the SIG’s member companies have an entirely new set of commercial and industrial opportunities to explore. Innovations in lighting control, building automation, production monitoring, and more are being developed using Bluetooth mesh. We’re looking forward to seeing the industrial-grade solutions that they will build, learning through their experiences, and continuing to evolve the technology.

Jim Katsandres is the Director of Developer Relations and Evangelism for the Bluetooth SIG.

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