Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) Audio, introduced through Bluetooth specification version 5.2, marks the beginning of a new era in audio experiences. Behind the secrets of LE Audio is the new high-quality, low-power audio codec called the Low Complexity Communications Codec (LC3), which provides better audio quality while using lower data rates. Some of the notable features of LE Audio include enhanced audio quality, lower power consumption, improved interoperability, easier development of hearing aids and true-wireless devices, new audio device types, and new audio sharing use cases.
Registered users can unlock up to five pieces of premium content each month.
- Compared to the 115.5 million Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) Audio-enabled devices shipped in 2022, that number will soar to 3 billion in 2027.
- While LE Audio will continue to increase adoption, the vast majority of device shipments will be dual-mode because vendors don’t want to neglect the Classic Audio installed base.
- The cellular segment is, by far, the biggest adopter of LE Audio with 104.4 million shipments in 2022. Growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 83%, 2.1 billion cellular devices will ship with Bluetooth LE Audio capabilities in 2027.
- As for specific device type categories, smartphones lead the way, accounting for nearly half (1.4 billion) of all LE Audio-supported devices shipping in 2027.
- Today, LE Audio is virtually non-existent in the wearables market. But this segment is growing at a CAGR of 370% and will reach 344.2 million shipments in 2027.
- This new audio technology will also find its way into Personal Computers (PCs)/PC accessories and home entertainment/connected home devices—194. 5 million and 199.7 million annual device shipments, respectively, by 2027.
- Auracast, one of the most interesting aspects of Bluetooth LE Audio, will be used in roughly 2.5 million deployments globally by 2030.
- Public assembly use cases make up 42% of all Auracast deployments today. However, by 2030, that percentage will dwindle as silent TV screens, assistive listening, and multi-language support applications become more prevalent.
“LE Audio use cases are expected to transform the frequency and ways in which we interact with audio on a daily basis.” – Andrew Zignani, Research Director at ABI Research
Key Decision Items
Analyze the LE Audio Market Opportunities by Device Type
The main devices that Bluetooth LE Audio will find value in are smartphones, tablets, PCs, wearables/Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, TVs, hearing aids, and true-wireless headsets/hearables. The pace of transition in most of these markets will hinge on Operating Software (OS) updates and the attitudes that vendors hold toward LE Audio. In each market, LE Audio will enable vendors to create new applications for people with hearing loss or other end customers.
In some markets, like wearables, LE Audio support has the potential to take over fairly quickly. At the same time, in other markets, such as the TV domain, the rollout will take more time because, in the case of TVs, people wait 5 to 10 years before upgrading. Then there are other markets like the tablet space that are oligopoly in nature. In that case, the migration to Bluetooth 5.2/5.3 is dependent on relatively few decision makers. For example, neither Apple nor Amazon—accounting for 52% of the tablet market share—have released 5.2-compatible tablets yet.
As for the smartphone market—the main way Bluetooth is currently used—just 5% of all shipments by the end of 2022 will support LE Audio. But by 2027, that number will soar to 90% of all smartphone shipments.
Established Bluetooth Vendors Should Support Dual-Mode over Single-Mode LE Audio
While Over-the-Air (OTA) firmware updates can help expand LE Audio support to more devices, it’s still a niche market at the moment. Until Bluetooth 5.2 and 5.3 are supported on a massive scale, it makes little sense for an established audio vendor to go all in with LE support. If a device manufacturer or an Integrated Circuit (IC) vendor were to abandon Classic Audio now, they would alienate most of the consumer base. Instead, established Bluetooth players should support dual-mode device solutions. That way, the enormous Classic Audio installed base can still be targeted, while taking advantage of new broadcast features as they enter the market.
After various discussions with industry stakeholders, ABI Research has heard the common call for backward compatibility. Rather than substituting LE Audio for Classic Audio, the audio ecosystem sees the new technology as complementary in nature for now. There will still be some companies for which it makes sense to go all in with single-mode LE Audio. The next section goes into more detail on this.
Some Bluetooth IC Vendors Can Use LE Audio as a Differentiator Now
Whereas only supporting LE Audio is unwise for companies with solid market share in the Classic Audio space, this move could be beneficial for other players. LE Audio breaks down many barriers, as it makes it easier to develop lower-cost, lower-complexity, and non-proprietary products with better coordination, less latency, and optimized power consumption. Therefore, expect the market to open up to new entrants that can capitalize on the latest technology.
The same principle can be applied to existing Bluetooth Integrated Circuit (IC) vendors that either don’t have significant market share in Classic Audio or have no portfolio for it. Companies like Nordic Semiconductor, Silicon Labs, ST Microelectronics, NXP, Renesas, and Espressif—along with new entrants—can get a head start on innovating the LE Audio space today because Bluetooth 5.3 is fundamental to their brands already. Naturally, the wireless landscape will become much more competitive.
Bundling Ensures User Uptake for LE Audio
The only thing holding LE Audio back from its full potential today is that there aren’t enough devices that support Bluetooth 5.2 and above. But one way to overcome this problem is for those working on both the source and sink ecosystem to bundle LE Audio-only headsets with LE Audio-compatible devices. For example, when someone purchases a smartphone, the box will also come with a headset or another source that supports LE Audio. By doing this, product Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) ensure that the features of Bluetooth 5.2 and 5.3 will be leveraged by users. Further, it allows OEMs to stand out from other brands in the market.
Educate Consumers on How Auracast Can Be Used in Their Lives
Although Auracast will significantly influence the way people consume content and interact with the surrounding environment, there is some serious need for educational campaigns in this space. In fact, a recent survey in the UK found that 44% of post office visitors couldn't use a hearing loop despite having a compatible hearing aid device. Customers and, in some cases, even the staff, often lack awareness of a hearing loop or have no idea how to use it. If awareness of hearing loops is already so poor, that’s a bad omen for Auracast and the greater LE Audio market.
Besides running educational campaigns for stakeholders in the hearing device space, Bluetooth players need to also promote the practical ways in which Auracast can be leveraged by consumer device owners and venue operators, who will serve as a key catalyst for adoption. Below are a few Bluetooth Auracast applications that market players should promote in advertisements, website content, and other marketing avenues.
- Multi-Language Support: Users can connect to a stream that’s translated into their preferred language using their own device.
- Silent TV Screens: With their Auracast assistant and headset device, users can listen to the audio of a particular TV screen in a public venue where sound is turned off or hard to hear.
- Education: Lecture halls and classrooms with assisted listening transmitters installed enable students to receive audio from teachers, professors, lecturers, and guest speakers via the Public Address (PA) system.
- Public Assembly: Anywhere a large number of people are gathered together, Bluetooth Auracast can send audio from a PA system to an unlimited number of sink devices without the requirement for additional hardware. For example, visitors of public transportation hubs can tune in to just the most relevant announcements, filtering out extraneous messaging.
Key Market Players to Watch
Dig Deeper for the Full Picture
For more on developing a strategy for Bluetooth LE Audio, download ABI Research’s Bluetooth LE Audio: Market Opportunities and Challenges research report.
Not ready for the report yet? Check out the following ABI Analyst Insights:
- Despite the High Price, Apple’s AirPods Max are Set to Foster Increased Competition in Wireless Headset Market
- Bluetooth Lighting Up the Corridors
This content is part of the company’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth & Wireless Connectivity Research Service.