Tim Frank Andersen
The future of wireless technologies
Prediction #8 for 2021
2020 surprised us all with extreme turbulence and digital hyper growth due to the global pandemic. In 2021 hopefully, we will return to a new normal, where digital solutions will show the way to the future.
As in earlier years, I have curated the most interesting and pressing technological trends for the year to come, which I will reveal in a series of ten articles — this is number 8.
Next-level wireless short-distance technologies
In an increasingly wireless world, where we require all kinds of devices to connect rapidly and seamlessly, the need for innovation is huge. The IoT (Internet of Things) development is demanding it to happen. Research shows there will be 35 billion IoT smart devices online by 2021, and that number looks set to rise to 75 billion by 2025
Luckily, a lot is happening in this field.
ZigBee, Z-wave, NFC, Ultra Wideband, Amazon Sidewalk and Bluetooth LE Audio are all names of different data protocols, battling for supremacy when it comes to transferring data and establishing connection.
Let´s take a closer look at what to expect in 2021, starting with the best known wireless technology: Bluetooth.
This is one of the invisible successes of our digital world. In 2021, it will launch with a faster, less energy demanding version (Bluetooth 5.2) that enables immediate connection of multiple devices even from a considerable distance. Additionally, devices supporting the newest version will provide higher quality of sound using less energy through a more secure connection (Bluetooth LE Audio). This version will also provide support for the hearing aid industry. Expect 5 billion devices incorporating Bluetooth to be shipped in 2021.
Another connectivity technology that’s heading for mainstream adoption in 2021 is Ultra Wideband (UWB). UWB is much faster than Bluetooth, significantly more accurate, and less vulnerable to interference as its signals can pass more easily through our bodies or the walls of a room. Last year’s development within this technical field indicates that UWB is likely to become a mainstream wireless connectivity technology right across consumer and IoT categories.
As an example, Apple has added UWB support to the iPhone 11 and 12, the Apple Watch Series 6, and the new HomePod mini and is clearly planning to make UWB an integrated technology of its device ecosystem.
The main feature it enables is highly accurate location tracking — down to a few centimetres — like GPS on steroids, helping improve services like directional file transfer through airdrop or find my [item X].
The rumoured Apple AirTags product is set to launch in 2021 and will add ease of use and convenience by enabling you to find the stuff you’re always looking for, like your keys or even your pet.
In addition, the new ‘car key’ feature launched by Apple will work better with UWB. Thanks to the integrated U1 chip, you won’t even have to take your iPhone out of your pocket or raise your wrist to unlock the doors or start the car.
It’s too soon to predict what exactly will be the main usage area, but it seems like UWB is here to stay. The development of a strong ecosystem of supporting devices indicates that 2021 will be the year where we all have to learn to use this new connectivity option and in which, according to ABI Research, the market will grow — with 300 million new devices supporting UWB.
Amazon Sidewalk for safer neighbourhoods
Amazon is venturing out on its own, with plans to release Amazon Sidewalk: a new low-bandwidth IoT network that will create entire smart neighbourhoods. By borrowing a small fraction of your Wi-Fi through which to pass a Bluetooth LE signal and sharing it with your neighbours, the idea is to create a low-power mesh network with a range of up to a kilometre. Moreover, it will work with existing hardware.
Expect Amazon Sidewalk to launch at the beginning of 2021 as an opt-out solution. So, if you don´t fancy the idea of Amazon borrowing a part of your network, you have to actively go in and turn it off.
Whether it’s through UWB, Bluetooth or any other technology, there is no doubt the world is becoming increasingly wireless, and the convenient applications that this development brings with it will make us all want to have it and use it. I predict that the market will widen next year with the increased adaptation of several new technologies.