A global provider of silicon, software, and solutions for a smarter, more connected world, Silicon Labs recently completed divestiture of its infrastructure and automotive business. This makes it possible to focus efforts on extending its wireless development platform with the technology, products, and services that help keep customers on the cutting edge of IoT innovation. 

A few weeks ago, I met with Jayanth Krishna, senior product manager of IoT Wireless for Silicon Labs, and learned more about Bluetooth® trends they saw in 2022 and what they expect to see from Bluetooth technology in 2023.

Q&A With Jayanth Krishna From Silicon Labs

What Bluetooth technology trends from 2022 most stick out to you, and what impacts did these trends have on the market?

“The biggest technology trend in 2022 was the arrival of Bluetooth® LE Audio.”

The pandemic for sure made the population at large more health conscious which has led to an increase in portable medical markets leveraging existing Bluetooth® Low Energy (LE) features. To name a few, devices in this market include continuous glucose monitors, blood pressure monitors, and pulse oximeters. And the biggest expansion is being seen in the home use market. The geopolitical situation leading to energy conservation efforts has also accelerated many conversations on the use of Bluetooth Mesh in commercial lighting as well as building automation. We’ve also seen increased popularity in the location services solution area. A case in point is when one of our customers used the Bluetooth angle of arrival (AoA) feature on Silicon Labs’ EFR32BG22 to implement a digital traceability solution capable of asset tracking as well as patient and personal tracking within a hospital. With all of these factors, we have seen a widespread impact on the asset tracking market as adoption increased dramatically in 2022.

The biggest technology trend in 2022 was the arrival of Bluetooth LE Audio. Most of the market limelight has been on audio-centric use cases – lower power, longer lasting headphones and music sharing, broadcast of audio in theaters/airports, and other consumer applications. However, we have also started seeing audio in IoT-centric devices. For example, a technician receiving audio prompts from their safety helmets or sensor hubs that send audio information to users who are busy. With the IoT slated to grow exponentially, we expect Bluetooth LE Audio to be a part of the IoT growth story.

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What Bluetooth technology trends do you anticipate seeing in 2023?

Electronic Shelf Label Web

We see a few very big trends positively impacting us. One will be in the electronic shelf label (ESL) space, which will leverage a forthcoming new Bluetooth feature, periodic advertisement with responses (PaWR), and the soon-to-be-released associated profiles. ESLs are battery operated and hence are very sensitive to power consumption while existing in a large network of thousands of nodes. Given that they display price information, they need to be protected against attacks. Bluetooth® technology is known for low-power wireless connectivity, and smart retail has been a focus area for us. Standardizing ESL through Bluetooth technology provides a power-efficient, secure, and scalable solution that converges nicely with existing Bluetooth smart retail offerings. This will tremendously impact our ability to provide more valuable solutions to our customers.

We also expect that location services – or, differently put, location awareness – will be a big one going into 2023. From the perspective of Bluetooth features, high-accuracy distance measurement (HADM) will be at the forefront of the technology evolution, but we do believe that this will be used with other existing Bluetooth LE features to address many new use cases or address existing use cases more efficiently – digital keys, generic access control with proximity-based authentication, and item finding are some examples.

We have been on the doorstep of the next version of Bluetooth Mesh for a while now and the draft specifications have been published. We firmly believe that there are several features which will not only make Bluetooth Mesh more useful but also enable the technology to go beyond the existing bastions of networked lighting control and building automation. There are several new use cases we are discussing with customers and hopefully will be able to make them public in 2023.

What has been the biggest demand from your customers, as it relates to Bluetooth technology, in 2022?

“Customers have continued to look to Bluetooth® technology to stretch the limits of their solutions.”

In general, customers have continued to look to Bluetooth® technology to stretch the limits of their solutions, and Silicon Labs met those demands. For example, Silicon Labs’ solutions can support 32 simultaneous connections. The stretch has been how long can you keep the connections alive and how much data can you pump. In the same vein, power optimization has been a key topic of discussion with customers. While there is a lot to talk about it, such as how a device like our ERF32BG22 has been optimized, there are a lot of protocol nuances that can be used to optimize the power consumption for specific use cases. The other vector of stretch is around security with the widespread increase in attacks. Our EFR32BG21 achieved PSA Certified Level 3 status, and that level of security on the silicon, combined with the inherent protocol security of Bluetooth technology, has won us several customers.

What has Silicon Labs focused on with Bluetooth technology in 2022, and what will you focus on in 2023?

Silicon Labs is a pure play IoT wireless company. Our general strategy is to leverage the connectivity technologies to best address the markets and segments we serve. When new features in Bluetooth Core Specification v5.3 were adopted, they addressed a wide variety of markets, and we were able to tune those features to be used for IoT devices as illustrated in one of the earlier blog posts. We will continue down this path for 2023 and explore new avenues to promote Bluetooth® technology in conjunction with the other complimentary technologies we are investing in, including AI/ML.

Every year continues to be more and more exciting. With the announcement of Bluetooth technology targeting higher throughput and higher bands, the envelope of market problems that the technology can solved will only expand. We will actively contribute towards developing these features and hope to make 2023 yet another landmark year.

What three words would you use to describe Bluetooth technology in 2023?

I would love to take this opportunity to attribute three words to Bluetooth® technology in general – pervasive, flexible, and dynamic.

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シリコン・ラボは、より洗練されたコネクテッドな世界を実現する、シリコン、ソフトウェア、ソリューションの世界的プロバイダーです。インフラ・自動車事業の売却を先ごろ完了し、これによりお客様がIoTイノベーションの最先端であり続けるための技術、製品、サービスを提供するワイヤレス開発プラットフォームの拡大に同社が集中して取り組む態勢が整いました。

数週間前、シリコン・ラボのIoTワイヤレス部門担当シニアプロダクトマネージャーを務めるジャヤント・クリシュナ(Jayanth Krishna)氏にお会いし、Bluetooth®の2022年のトレンドと2023年の展望についてお話を伺いました。

シリコン・ラボのジャヤント・クリシュナ氏とのQ&A

Bluetooth技術に関する2022年のトレンドで最も印象に残っているものは何ですか。それらのトレンドは市場にどのような影響をもたらしたと考えていますか。

パンデミックは確実に一般の人々の健康意識を高め、それが既存のBluetooth® LE機能を活用した携帯医療機器市場の拡大へとつながりました。いくつか具体例を挙げると、CGM(持続血糖測定器)、血圧測定器、パルスオキシメーターなどがあります。中でも最大の拡大は家庭用機器の市場で見られました。地政学的な情勢に起因するエネルギーの節減努力は、商業施設の照明やビルオートメーションでのBluetooth Meshの利用に関する話題に拍車をかけました。また、位置情報サービス分野もより多くの注目を集めています。好例として、当社のEFR32BG22に搭載されたBluetooth AoA(受信角度)機能を使用し、病院内の資産と患者や人の追跡ができるデジタルトレーサビリティソリューションを実装した事例が挙げられます。こうした要素がすべて相まって、2022年に技術導入が劇的に進む中、資産追跡市場に対する幅広い影響が見られました。

2022年最大の技術トレンドはBluetooth LE Audioの登場です。市場の注目の多くは、オーディオ中心のユースケースに集まっています。すなわち、低消費電力で長時間の稼働が可能なヘッドホン、楽曲共有など音楽を聴くときのオーディオシェアリング、劇場や空港での音声放送、またその他の一般消費者向け用途などです。しかし、IoTを中心としたデバイスでのオーディオの利用も見られ始めています。例えば、技術者に音声指示を与える安全ヘルメットや、多忙なユーザーに音声情報を送るセンサーハブなどです。IoTの飛躍的な広がりが見込まれる中、当社ではLE AudioがIoT普及の一端を担うと期待しています。

2023年にはどのようなBluetooth技術のトレンドが見られると予想していますか。

私たちにポジティブな影響を及ぼす大きなトレンドがいくつかあると考えています。その一つはESL(電子棚札)の分野で見られると予想しています。今後登場するBluetoothの新機能PaWR(応答付き定期アドバタイズ)と、間もなくリリースが予定される関連プロファイルを活用する分野です。ESLはバッテリー駆動のため消費電力の影響を非常に受けやすく、何千ものノードによって構成される大型ネットワークに属します。価格情報を表示するため、サイバー攻撃に対する防御が必要になります。Bluetooth®は低消費電力のワイヤレス接続技術として知られており、スマートリテールは以前より当社の重点分野でした。Bluetooth技術によるESLの標準化によって、Bluetoothを使用したスマートリテールの既存機能と良い形で統合できる、電力効率・セキュリティ・拡張性の全てに優れたソリューションを実現できます。これは、当社がお客様により有益なソリューションを提供するための能力に非常に大きな影響を及ぼすでしょう。

位置情報サービス、あるいは位置認識機能と言い換えることもできますが、その機能も2023年の大きなトピックの一つとなる予想です。Bluetooth機能の観点では技術進歩の最前線はHADM(高精度距離測定)にありますが、これがBluetooth LEと他の既存の機能とともに使用されることにより、多くの新しいユースケースの誕生や既存のユースケースの効率向上につながると考えています。例としてデジタルキー、近接型認証による汎用アクセス制御、紛失防止などが該当します。

Bluetooth Meshの新バージョン公開を間近に控え、待つ状態が続いていましたが、ついにドラフト仕様が公開されました。そのうちいくつかの仕様は、Bluetooth Meshをさらに有用にするにとどまらず、照明制御とビルオートメーションという確立された用途を超えた活用を可能にするとの確信を得ています。現在、お客様と話し合いを進めている新しいユースケースがいくつかあり、2023年のそれらの公開を有望視しています。

Bluetooth技術に関連して、2022年にお客様から最も求められたことは何ですか。

一般的に言えることとして、お客様は自社ソリューションの境界線を押し広げるものとしてBluetooth®技術への注目を続けており、シリコン・ラボはそのニーズに応えてきました。例えばシリコン・ラボのソリューションでは、32の同時接続をサポートできます。取り組むべき課題は、どれだけ長く接続を保てるか、どれだけの量のデータを送信できるかにありました。同様に、電力の最適化もお客様との話し合いにおける主要テーマの一つとなっています。当社のERF32BG22といったデバイスがどのように最適化されているかなど、それに関連する話題は多いのですが、特定のユースケースについて電力消費の最適化に利用できるプロトコル上の差異も多くあります。もう一つ取り組むべきものとして、サイバー攻撃の広範な増加に伴うセキュリティ関連の方向性があります。当社のEFR32BG21はPSA Certifiedレベル3を取得しており、こうしたセキュリティレベルを持つシリコンチップをBluetooth技術固有のプロトコルセキュリティと組み合わせることにより、複数のお客様の獲得につながっています。

シリコン・ラボがBluetooth技術に関連して2022年に重点的に取り組んだのはどのようなことですか。2023年には何に取り組む予定ですか。

シリコン・ラボはワイヤレスIoTの専門企業です。総合的な戦略はコネクティビティ技術を活用して対象市場・セグメントの成長に寄与することにあります。Bluetoothコア仕様5.3で採用された新しい機能は幅広い種類の市場を対象とするものでしたが、以前のブログ記事でもお伝えしたように、当社ではそれをIoTデバイス用にチューニングできています。2023年もこの路線を継続し、人工知能/機械学習など当社が注力する他の補完的な技術との連携においてBluetooth®技術を推進していく新たな手段を探ります。

年を追うごとに、Bluetooth技術に関する期待と高揚感は増すばかりです。Bluetooth技術の高スループット・高周波数帯域を対象とした取り組みが発表されたことで、同技術によって解決可能な市場課題の範囲は拡大の一途をたどるでしょう。当社でもこれらの機能の開発に積極的に貢献し、2023年も記念すべき年にしたいと考えています。

2023年のBluetooth技術を3つのワードで表すとしたらどのように表現しますか。

Bluetooth®技術全般の特性を3つのワードで表現する機会を得られて光栄です――pervasive(浸透)、flexible(柔軟)、dynamic(躍動的)です。

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