2210 LE Audio NOTE Stat 3

Since its inception, audio has represented the largest solution area for Bluetooth® technology, and Bluetooth audio is now included in 100 percent of smartphones, tablets, and PCs and in billions of wireless headsets and speakers. These use cases traditionally leveraged Bluetooth Classic technology, also known as Bluetooth Basic Rate / Enhanced Data Rate (BR/EDR).

Over the last decade, various new use cases and requirements for audio have emerged. This includes true-wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds, hearing aids, and networked speakers. To better serve these use cases, various companies developed their own proprietary extensions to Bluetooth Classic Audio, bringing synchronization between earbuds to create new device categories such as TWS earbuds and hearables, which first arrived in 2014. Since then, these devices propelled the Bluetooth audio market to new heights, with the TWS earbuds and hearable markets alone shipping over 200 million units in 2021.

To help standardize features, like those that support TWS, across all Bluetooth devices, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) released LE Audio earlier this year.

Introducing LE Audio

Building on 20 years of innovation, LE Audio operates on the Bluetooth® Low Energy (LE) radio and is set to transform the Bluetooth audio ecosystem over the next five-to-ten years. LE Audio not only supports development of the same audio products and use cases as Bluetooth Classic Audio, but it also supports improved audio quality, reduced power consumption, improved interoperability, easier development of hearing aids and TWS earbuds, new audio device types, and the emergence of Auracast™ broadcast audio which enables public and private broadcast use cases for consumer and assistive listening applications.

Recently, the Bluetooth SIG partnered with ABI Research to outline the potential trends and impacts LE Audio will have on the market. The following excerpt is from the published Bluetooth market research note: LE Audio: The Future of Bluetooth® Audio.

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Bluetooth Audio Market Forecasts

Chart 1 below shows ABI Research’s market forecasts for Bluetooth® peripheral audio devices over the next five years. The main devices in this forecast include those where receiving audio is the primary function, such as TWS earbuds, headsets, speakers, and hearing aids. By 2027, ABI Research forecasts there will be nearly 1.5 billion annual shipments of Bluetooth peripheral audio devices with over 730 million TWS earbuds, 208 million voice-control front ends, 192 million speakers, and 179 million hearables accounting for 94 percent of this market.

MRN Chart 1

Dual-Mode Bluetooth Audio to Lead the Way

Chart 2 shows Bluetooth® peripheral audio device segmented by the different Bluetooth radio technologies. While Bluetooth Classic has dominated the market historically, in recent years, many audio device manufacturers have begun to adopt dual-mode Bluetooth Classic and LE radio solutions.

2210 LE Audio NOTE Stat 2

While Bluetooth Classic is typically used to stream audio, Bluetooth LE can be used for faster pairing, media control, and to enable location functionality in order to track earbuds. Most leading Bluetooth wireless chipset vendors addressing the audio market today offer dual-mode radio solutions (i.e., Bluetooth Classic + Bluetooth LE) as part of their product portfolios. Over time, these dual-mode radio solutions will increasingly support LE Audio functionality and become dual-mode audio solutions (i.e., Classic Audio + LE Audio). This will help to enable new Auracast™ broadcast audio use cases while allowing vendors to continue to innovate on their product offering via additional features and performance differentiators. Furthermore, this dual-mode strategy will help these leading vendors retain their strong market presence throughout the LE Audio transition in source devices. Until most source devices have transitioned to support LE Audio, it makes little sense for incumbent vendors to commit fully to a single-mode LE solution and limit their addressable market to those with LE Audio source devices. At the same time, dual-mode solutions can enable new Auracast™ broadcast audio capability when used with source devices or public transmitters that support LE Audio. As a result, as Chart 2 shows, dual-mode audio devices are expected to account for the most significant portion of the Bluetooth audio market throughout the forecast period.

2210 LE Audio NOTE Chart 2

Standalone LE Audio Will Emerge Over Time

2210 LE Audio NOTE Stat 4

ABI Research also expects a third category of LE Audio-only devices will emerge. These devices will take full advantage of the new LE Audio features and differentiate in areas such as power consumption and cost. There are a number of Bluetooth® chipset suppliers who have emerged since the arrival of Bluetooth LE and have not had a Bluetooth Classic Audio portfolio or significant market share in the audio market. Here, there may be some new opportunities to get ahead of the curve and build a new presence in the LE Audio space. These chipset vendors have little to lose in terms of existing market share. Therefore, they can target new opportunities in a growing market across the hearing aid, true-wireless, and broadcast audio ecosystem.

One of LE Audio’s greatest achievements will be to open up the audio market to new entrants and make it easier to develop lower cost, lower complexity, non-proprietary products that have better synchronization, lower latency, improved power consumption, and that can enable new capabilities such as Auracast™ broadcast audio and assistive listening use cases in public venues. In addition, some incumbent vendors may offer separate LE Audio-only solutions alongside their dual-mode solutions. However, as Chart 2 shows, it will likely be post 2025 before LE Audio single-mode devices gain appreciable traction as it will rely on a significant installed base of LE Audio-capable source devices to emerge.

To learn more about how LE Audio will help establish new use cases and consumer experiences, open the audio ecosystem to new industry players, and enable the Bluetooth audio market to scale to new heights, read the full report: LE Audio: The Future of Bluetooth® Audio.

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LE Audio: The Future of Bluetooth® Audio

See how the arrival of LE Audio is set to transform the Bluetooth audio ecosystem and the impact it will have on Bluetooth® audio market forecasts.

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