Bluetooth low energy set to lead standardization in health and fitness devices by 2015

IMS Research estimates Bluetooth low energy will account for almost half of the ICs shipped worldwide for health and fitness applications, which will exceed 100 million units.


According to a recent report from IMS Research,* by 2015, Bluetooth low energy will account for almost half of the ICs shipped worldwide for health and fitness applications, with shipments (both dual-mode and single-mode) estimated to have exceeded 100 million units.

There are a range of key driving factors set to start the shift in favour of Bluetooth low energy. These include the Continua Alliance’s continued support of Bluetooth low energy in healthcare applications; the Bluetooth SIG’s recent approval of the Health Thermometer Profile, Blood Pressure Monitor Profile and Heart Rate Monitor Profile, which will allow device manufacturers to begin rolling out Bluetooth low energy enabled products towards the start of 2012; and the anticipated release of dual-mode equipped cellular handsets in 2011.

Competition to Bluetooth low energy currently exists from both proprietary and other standardized solutions. A standardized solution can offer several key advantages to proprietary solutions, the most important being interoperability. With proprietary solutions, consumers will have to buy all their health and fitness devices from a single manufacturer in order to connect them. By using a standardised approach, consumers can use devices from a mix of different manufacturers and connect them within a single network.

Other standardised solutions include ANT. ANT is already well-established in sports and fitness equipment and is used by companies such as Adidas and Nike to provide low-power wireless functionality. ANT is also available in certain mobile phones. Sony Ericsson has recently announced that six of its models from the Xperia range have either had a software update to enable ANT on existing handsets or are being shipped with ANT preinstalled on newer models. This is due to the inclusion of the TI WiLink 6.0 in Sony Ericcson’s phones, which includes the option of ANT.

TI’s WiLink family of ICs are also included in certain handsets from other manufacturers such as HTC, Nokia, and RIM; who have not opted to enable ANT technology. This may be for a range of reasons, such as the additional testing requirements and the extra memory resources required to support the ANT stack.

Even with the beginnings of an ecosystem for ANT in place, Bluetooth low energy is still expected to displace ANT in certain devices. Bluetooth is seen as a ‘standard’ technology to be included in smart and feature phones, with almost 6 billion Bluetooth-enable handsets forecast to be shipped between 2011 and 2015; the added cost to move to a dual-mode IC is minimal and will allow handsets to connect with both existing Classic Bluetooth-enabled devices, as well as Bluetooth low energy-enabled devices once they are released.

Health and fitness device manufacturers have already begun using the mobile phone as a monitoring centre or data aggregator, in place of a discrete hub device or dongle. With the roll out of dual-mode Bluetooth low energy-enabled mobile phones predicted for 2H11, IMS Research expects an array of  Bluetooth­ low energy-enabled sports and fitness devices, which use a mobile phone as  a ‘hub’ to roll out during 2012, with consumer health devices following towards the end of the year.

According to an upcoming report from IMS Research**, in the short- to medium- term, health and fitness device manufacturers will predominately favour modules over a direct IC integration approach. With most health and fitness device manufacturers having little or no RF expertise, the cost of developing and testing an integrated approach is considered to outweigh the cost of using a module. A further reason is related to device certification and regulatory issues, particularly in consumer healthcare. Module manufacturers can build certified solutions that meet all the necessary regulations, reducing the burden on device manufacturers, and allowing them to quickly integrate these modules into their products, giving them a faster time to market.

Bluetooth low energy’s arrival has up-to-now been rather slow, and its emergence as the major standard is heavily reliant on the release of dual-mode cellular handsets; but with the expected release of these handsets happening in the 2011, IMS Research expects to see it finally delivering on its promises in 2012. 


*Source: The World Market for Low Power Wireless – 2011 Edition

**Source: The World Market for Low Power Wireless Modules – 2011 Edition

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