By now, we’re all familiar with Bluetooth® wireless audio. Most of us use it to connect our smartphones, laptops, tablets, or other devices to our earbuds, headsets, or speakers. After years of evolution, we arrive at Bluetooth LE Audio, the next generation of Bluetooth audio that promises to change the game.

This new audio technology takes advantage of the features introduced by Bluetooth Core Specification Versions 5.2 and above, as well as a suite of over 20 newly released specifications. These upgrades deliver improved audio quality, reduced power consumption, greater interoperability, and easier development of hearing aids and true-wireless devices. Above all, Bluetooth LE Audio will enable new public and private audio sharing and broadcast use cases for both consumer and assistive listening applications, known as Auracast™ broadcast audio.

While the Bluetooth LE Audio ecosystem is still fairly new, the significant number of chipset, IP, and product disclosures foreshadow a bright future that will materialize in the next 12-18 months. As of mid-January 2023, there were over 200 listings of Bluetooth products supporting the LC3 codec. This includes a range of headset, earbuds, soundbars, speakers, audio transmitters, smartphones, and tablets, among other devices, alongside chipsets and modules. In just five years, ABI Research forecasts that three billion Bluetooth LE Audio enabled source and peripheral devices will ship annually.

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LE Audio: The Future of Bluetooth® Audio

Get new forecasts about when and which audio devices will adopt Auracast™ broadcast audio, along with predictions for when public locations will deploy this new Bluetooth capability to enable new audio use cases in their venues.

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New Broadcast Audio Use Cases

Auracast™ broadcast audio is perhaps the most meaningful new feature of Bluetooth LE Audio — allowing several audio streams to simultaneously broadcast to an unlimited number of receivers via audio transmitters. Auracast™ broadcast audio can be deployed in a wide range of public locations, including :

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  • Theatres and cinemas
  • Places of worship
  • Transport hubs
  • Community centers
  • Meeting halls
  • Gymnasiums
  • Sports bars
  • Museums
  • Sports arenas

Industry players should strongly consider the following initial use cases for Auracast™ broadcast audio identified by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG).

Augmented/Assistive Listening in Public Venues: Not only will Auracast™ broadcast audio help make broader deployment and increased availability of assistive listening services for people with hearing loss possible, it will also expand applicability of these systems to consumers with all levels of hearing health.

Multi-Language Support: In places where people who speak different languages congregate, such as conference centers or cinemas, Auracast™ broadcast audio can provide simultaneous translation in users’ native tongues.

Tour Systems: Within venues like museums, stadiums, and tourist attractions, users can tune into the touring audio stream with their own earbuds or headsets — providing a more immersive experience.

Silent TV Screens: Auracast™ broadcast audio can enable users to listen to the audio from a TV when there’s no audio or if the volume is too low to hear. Again, this makes for a better visitor experience in venues such as gyms and sports bars.

Assistive Listening at Public Counters/One-to-One: While a longer-term development, there will be a significant market opportunity for private, one-to-one assistive listening solutions (e.g., service counters and reception desks).

Auracast™ broadcast audio deployments in public venues will be closely linked to the speed of the rollout of Bluetooth LE Audio solutions in the transmitter and receiver devices. Devices like smartphones, tablets, and personal computers (PCs), alongside true-wireless earbuds, headsets, and hearing aids, will likely be the first major device categories to adopt Bluetooth LE Audio. Other categories — such as TVs, smartwatches, speakers, and voice-control front ends — will likely follow this initial wave of adoption. In the longer term, there is likely to be an additional wave of smart home and IoT products that embed Bluetooth LE Audio technology to enable innovative methods of interaction.

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ABI Research anticipates that wider adoption of Auracast™ broadcast audio will begin to take shape in 2025. At that point, the technology will be more well known, transmitter devices will be freely available, and the installed base of Bluetooth LE Audio-enabled devices will reach a significant figure. For example, whereas just five percent of smartphones shipping in 2022 are expected to support Bluetooth LE Audio, by 2027, this is expected to be around 90 percent. Therefore, the industry can expect rapid uptake in Auracast™ broadcast audio deployments to take place in the latter half of the decade, driven initially by silent TV and augmented/assistive listening use cases in public venues.

Given these factors, there will be almost 2.5 million Auracast™ broadcast audio deployments globally by 2030. Public assembly buildings, such as cinemas and theaters, museums, transportation hubs, meeting halls, and gyms, among others, will lead the charge, accounting for 42 percent of the deployments. This will be followed by places of worship, restaurants and food service establishments, and lodging venues (e.g., hotels and nursing homes). ABI Research expects silent TV and augmented/assistive listening use cases in public venues to drive initial adoption. In public assembly buildings, all five major use cases will be relevant; however, by 2030, the majority will come from silent TV screens, assistive listening, and multi-language support. Deployments in places of worship will center upon assistive listening use cases, while food service establishment deployments will be led by silent TV screens in bars and other venues.

One of the larger, but longer-term opportunities for Auracast™ broadcast audio will be found within one-to-one or counter-based assistive listening applications. Today, hearing loop solutions can be found in a wide range of public service counters or reception desks within retail and hospitality, healthcare settings, cinemas, banks, post offices, educational campuses, and government and public buildings, among many others. However, the initial focus for Auracast™ broadcast audio has been very much on the larger-scale broadcast applications and less on the private, one-to-one solutions. It will likely be several years before these one-to-one solutions are available in significant volumes.

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