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Wireless connectivity semis maintain strong growth in Health and Fitness

Semiconductors providing wireless connectivity in health and fitness devices are set for solid double-digit growth in 2014 and beyond, especially as a clutch of wireless technologies make their way into a growing number of wearable devices, according to a new report from IHS Technology.
Shipments this year for wireless semiconductors in health and fitness will reach a projected 61.2 million units, up 11 percent from 55.0 million in 2013. The expected strong expansion for this year continues the robust growth of 2012 and 2013. And the market shows little signs of slowing, with shipments in 2018 climbing to 95.78 million units.

The overall health and fitness market covered by the forecast includes the sports and fitness segment on the one hand, as well as the adjacent market for health and wellness on the other. While overlaps exist between the two segments, there are also subtle differences.

For instance, data and activity sharing by wireless means is more common in sports and fitness as consumers happily disclose the results of their improving fitness levels. In contrast, sharing is not as widespread in health and wellness, where disease management is largely private and carefully guarded by the affected individuals.

Bluetooth Smart is leader of the pack

Yet the fitness market as a whole is particularly receptive to wireless connectivity.

“Because most health and fitness devices are mobile, wireless connectivity is important,” said Lee Ratliff, principal analyst for connectivity at IHS. “And because these wireless mobile devices are in most cases also wearable and thus require a small form-factor, they cannot be power hogs and must support low-energy consumption to have the best chance of succeeding in the consumer market.”

Wireless connectivity mainly serves two purposes, Ratliff noted. Especially in sports and fitness applications, wireless connectivity is often used to provide a link to remote sensors when wired connectivity is too cumbersome. Examples here include linking heart-rate chest straps to wrist-worn heart-rate monitors, or linking wheel-speed sensors to cycling computers.

A second use is for data uploading, with wireless connectivity employed to upload fitness and performance data to PCs, smartphones, tablets or online communities for analysis and sharing.

Among the various wireless technologies now available on the market for health and fitness, Bluetooth Smart is the most successful. As a low-power technology, Bluetooth Smart enables even the smallest wearable products—such as foot pods, the size of one’s thumbnail—to operate for years on a battery the size of a coin cell. Bluetooth Smart also leverages its enviable position in mobile phones and tablets: It is the only major low-power wireless technology able to communicate with all the chief mobile platforms, including Apple iOs, Google Android, Microsoft Windows 8 and the BlackBerry operating system.

Moreover, the dongle-free connectivity of Bluetooth Smart gives it an edge over other rivals. No other technology features both low-power consumption as well as seamless connectivity, Ratliff said.

One wireless technology specifically designed for the health and fitness market and popular with heart-rate monitors, ANT/ANT+, is a low-power technology that, however, does not enjoy the same broad support in mobile platforms. A PC or dongle is also required for ANT/ANT+, unlike Bluetooth Smart. Still, ANT/ANT+ enjoys a significant market share and seems to have a defensible position, especially in products designed for serious fitness enthusiasts and in cycling electronics.

Keen consumers help spur market

A big driver of growth in health and fitness devices is the desire among consumers to track and analyze personal data, in pursuit of what is known in industry circles as “the quantified self.” Consumers can then share such data via social media and online communities, often via apps like RunKeeper of Runtastic.

Other drivers for the market include the increased use of wearable devices; decreasing component costs; an aging demographic concerned about preserving health; and the rising use of telehealth, or remote healthcare systems.

Shipments of consumer health and fitness devices with integrated wireless connectivity will grow to an estimated 75.7 million units in 2018, up from 23.0 million units in 2011.


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