“While all eyes are on 5G, other connectivity standards such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ultra-wideband are also evolving.” asserts Mohammed Tmimi, Ph.D., technology and market analyst, RF Devices & Technologies at Yole Développement (Yole). He added, “One thing we all learned during the repetitive COVID-19 lockdowns is that broadband internet became essential for survival, as observed with data traffic peaking due to streaming and video calls.”

This is due to a higher data consumption per device and an increase in the number of connected devices per user. This increase was enhanced significantly by the wireless standards that provide freedom of mobility, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ultra-wideband technologies. Although its evolution is less noticeable than cellular standards, Wi-Fi is as important as 5G in this acceleration of the digital transformation.

In this context, Yole and its partner, System Plus Consulting, investigated the disruptive RF technologies and more globally, connectivity technologies in depth. The two companies highlight the latest innovations and underline the business opportunities in a dedicated collection of reports and monitors.

The Wireless Connectivity RF Front-End Technologies for Consumer Market 2021 report from Yole delivers a comprehensive overview of consumer connectivity with key examples of RF architecture and evolution for each RFFE device.

In parallel, the RF Front-End Module Comparison 2021 – Volume 4 – Focus on Wi-Fi 6/6E report from System Plus Consulting provides insights into technology and cost data for Wi-Fi chipsets – specifically, the SoCs, FEMs, and several components found in four of the latest smartphones: the Huawei P50 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy S21 5G and Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra.

Discover this snapshot of the wireless connectivity industry from Yole and System Plus Consulting.

Consumer premises equipment devices such as routers and mesh systems, will also benefit from the latest innovations. 

According to Cédric Malaquin, senior technology and market analyst specializing in RF devices & technologies within the Power & Wireless division at Yole. “We estimate that consumer mesh systems will penetrate the market more rapidly, growing from 15 million units shipped in 2021 to 56 million units in 2026. At the same time, the volume of consumer routers will remain stable YoY, but the RF BoM will further increase with the higher penetration of 4x4 MIMO, Wi-Fi 6E and the future Wi-Fi 7 6GHz band.”

However, Wi-Fi is not the only standard seeing significant developments.

Bluetooth standards are also being optimized for specific use cases; for example, Bluetooth Low Energy audio (BLE Audio) is becoming crucial to serving the true-wireless stereo hearables market. The new BLE Audio offers a new high-quality codec (LC3 Codec) that provides a good power consumption/audio quality compromise; this was completed with the multi-stream capability that enables simultaneous transmission to multiple audio sink devices. This new capability comes at a crucial time for the hearables market, where the volume of TWS earbuds and wireless headsets is expected to more than double, from 387 million units shipped in 2021 to over 900 million units expected to be shipped yearly by 2026, with Apple leading this market.

With its highly precise positioning and localization capabilities, ultra-wideband technology has also benefited from the COVID-19 situation. As it gains traction in the consumer market for contract tracing, touchless access control use cases, like touchless door opening, are expanding. This technology pull initiated by Apple, then extended by Samsung, Xiaomi and the like, is also being introduced in the automotive industry by, for instance, BMW, Volkswagen and others. It could ultimately replace the keys.

Each year, the reverse engineering and costing tools company System Plus Consulting tears down hundreds of FEMs and components in select flagship smartphones to provide an overview of the RF FEM market. Gathering the information in one report offers an opportunity to track the evolution of this technology market. The RF Front-End Module Comparison 2021 – Volume 4 – Focus on Wi-Fi 6/6E report features a comprehensive overview of the connectivity architecture in the market, comparing Wi-Fi AC (aka 5.0) to Wi-Fi AX (aka 6/6E). 

For Stéphane Elisabeth, Ph.D. senior technology and cost analyst at System Plus Consulting. “As the architecture is central on the SoC, PAs, switches and LNAs, a detailed analysis (including a cross-section and technology analysis) is also provided. Furthermore, different choices of architecture are revealed between MediaTek, Broadcom, Qualcomm and Huawei.”

According to Yole, two factors will lead to significant growth in the connectivity RFFE  device market analyzed. The first is the volume growth of specific devices, such as wearables embedding a 2.4 GHz SAW filter, while the second is the addition of new RF chains for 2x2 and 4x4 MIMO devices, plus the 6 GHz band RF chains. The number of 6 GHz chains will vary depending on the device, whereas the use of 46 GHz RF chains is increasingly popular for backhaul in mesh Wi-Fi devices. Yole’s analysts estimate that the RFFE market of the products analyzed will grow from US$2.7 billion in 2021 to US$4.3 billion in 2026 with a 10 percent CAGR between 2021 and 2026, excluding the chipsets’ market value.

Smartphones, tablets and laptops take the lion’s share. Here Yole’s RF team estimate that Wi-Fi/BT/UWB is responsible for an RFFE market valued at US$2 billion in 2021, while by 2026, this Connectivity RFFE market will grow to US$3 billion with an 8.4 percent CAGR between 2021 and 2026, excluding the chipsets’ market value. This increase is driven by the rapid implementation of UWB, Wi-Fi 6E, and 2x2 MIMO in smartphones, translating into a higher connectivity RF BoM.