It is not a far-fetched forecast, to say the least, that analysts across the board are seeing significant growth for Wi-Fi and wireless ICs in 2014 due to the continued rise in smart wireless devices (SWDs). What is significant and new to this growth forecast is the expansion of the category of SWDs from primarily smartphones and tablet PCs to include a quickly growing array of wearable devices (medical, health & fitness, and general consumer electronic (CE)), TVs, Internet of Things (IoT) Machine-to-Machine (M2M) connected devices, auto-infotainment, and growing assisted and autonomous driving capabilities. As a direct result of the increase in data being transmitted, we are also seeing an increase in the demand for high-speed wireless technologies.
High-speed wireless growth for mobile
The range of SWDs continues to expand as users adoption of smartphone and tablet PCs has changed the landscape for how and where devices are used and for the vastly expanded set of uses. Alongside of the feature demands for power efficiency, multitasking, memory, and portability, the demands around connectivity have also increased. Adding to the list are the needs to transfer greater data sets rapidly across various devices from increasingly more cloud connected devices. Furthermore, just as users quickly demanded more and more memory alongside of increasingly rapid processors, we see that the demand for high-speed wireless technologies that can handle the data-rich transfers is also increasing. iSuppli recently reported their growth forecast for this sector:
Annual shipments of high-speed wireless-enabled devices such as smartphones, televisions and mobile PCs are expected to reach 503 million devices by 2018, up more than tenfold from 49 million units anticipated in 2013. Growth during the next three years will be tremendous, ranging from 60 to 120 percent, with expansion during the last two years of the forecast window moderating somewhat to still-high increases of up to 30 percent […].
A high-speed wireless-enabled device, as defined by IHS, is one that includes at least one of the following technologies: WirelessHD, WHDI, 802.11ad (WiGig) or multi-stream Wi-Fi (802.11n 3x3 higher or 802.11ac 2x2 and higher). These technologies, in turn, are known for featuring wireless speeds several times faster than that of 802.11n and earlier, which offer velocities anywhere between 72 megabits per second (mbps) to 530 mbps typical of Wi-Fi.
Wireless medical resumes growth in 2014
The wireless medical device sector is seeing renewed momentum after a more sluggish period. The renewal is tied to the continued efforts in the mature economies to better manage the skyrocketing healthcare costs as those populations age; simultaneously, emerging economies are increasing their efforts to reach the growing populations that are outside of urban centers. According to the most recent IC Insights market report, 2014 should bring a return to double-digit semiconductor sales for the medical sector:
The new report forecasts medical electronics sales will grow 8% to about $50.9 billion in 2014 after rising just 3% in 2013 to an estimated $47.3 billion. Sales of semiconductors used in medical systems are also expected to gain strength in 2014, rising 12% to $4.9 billion after growing 7% in 2013 to about $4.4 billion.
Between 2012 and 2017, worldwide sales of medical electronics are projected to rise by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.3%, reaching $65.4 billion in the final forecast year of the 2014 IC Market Drivers report. The brand new medical electronics section in the 475-page report shows semiconductor sales for healthcare systems applications rising by a CAGR of 10.5% and reaching $6.8 billion in 2017 […].
IC Insights underscores, the increase in both remote patient monitoring technologies as well as continued reductions in the cost of diagnostic and imaging medical equipment, will support the growth of medical semi particularly for the emerging economies, and with particular strength expected from the Chinese market.
The IC Insights report further explains that the expansion of medical semi and medical electronic devices are going to be important sectors for the future of the semiconductor and electronics because of the two very strong (and different) trends that are occurring presently: (1) increased use of wearable medical electronics for monitoring individuals (both health & fitness and medical patients) through smartphones and portable devices that will commoditize as the costs continue to drop for the specific ICs and the continued drop in MEMS ASPs; (2) increases in facility-based diagnostic equipment for earlier detection and prevention of diseases (cancer, chronic diseases, etc.) which require more expensive medical systems but that improve patient outcomes while also reducing overall cost of care.
Automotive semi sees autonomous growth
As if the above were not enough to highlight the extent to which the rosy forecasts for 2014 are to be believed (and we're not even mentioning the smartphone and tablet PC growth numbers!), there is the forecasted growth in automotive semi that is looking to follow an increasing compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2014-2020. The recent EETimes article captures the important "car race" that is underway as friendly competition heightens and promotes innovative designs and a vibrant market sector.
On the one hand, there is the competition between automotive OEMs, who are competing with each other to meet and exceed customer features and sell their cars; and on the other hand, the competition between automotive chip suppliers who are looking to innovate and provide the latest semiconductor engineering solutions for the auto OEMs to provide innovative autonomous driving features that enhance the driving experience and promote safety through various alerting and assisted control functions. The end result is, of course, a significant increase in the penetration rate for semiconductor and electronic systems in vehicles.
While the autonomous focus does not, in and of itself, necessarily include additional Wi-Fi and/or wireless, we do note that in parallel with the feature competition among auto OEMs for assisted driver features, is the parallel race to improve wireless connectivity in the automobile. The ability for drivers and passengers to expand the ability to use the features available through their smartphones and tablet PCs in the car (and for the driver to do so safely without distraction) is included in the advanced feature packages that are already being presented to customers. In advance of the maturation of assisted driver features, the current race is very much rooted in the car as an extended connected device.
All in all, there are many reasons to believe that the rush of positive forecasts we are seeing from a stronger 2013 rebound into continued growth for 2014+ are quite well-founded (and well-rounded!).