Combination IC shipments aim high, thanks to Wi-Fi

Wireless combination IC shipments are expected to grow 24% in 2011 thanks to smartphones and tablet PC's.
By Heath Lockett, Market Analyst, IMS Research August 18, 2011

Wireless combination IC shipments are forecast to grow by almost 24% in 2011. The vast majority of the growth is due to just two applications, smartphones and tablet PCs; and one particular combination IC, Bluetooth/FM/WLAN.

Historically, the vast majority of combination ICs shipped have featured Bluetooth and FM technologies, with this specific combination being incredibly successful in cellular handsets. However, with the rapid growth of the smartphone sector in recent years, thanks largely to Apple’s iPhone and handsets using Google’s Android OS, inclusion of Wi-Fi technology has become almost essential. This is evidenced by the WLAN attach rate in smartphones rocketing from 56% in 2009, to a projected 93% in 2011.

Given the immense success of the smartphone and tablet PC sectors of late, the market for combination ICs is really pushing forward at a great pace. Many of the latest, greatest consumer devices contain a combination IC, for example Motorola’s Atrix smartphone, Apple’s iPad2 and Sony’s Playstation 3.

In particular, many devices now combine Bluetooth technology, an FM radio and Wi-Fi as part of a Bluetooth/FM/WLAN combo IC. The number of devices shipping with this particular type of chip is forecast to increase by an incredible 62% in 2011, and by 2012 Bluetooth/FM/WLAN ICs will overtake shipments of Bluetooth/FM chips, which really highlights just how important a part of our lives Wi-Fi has become.

With combination IC shipments booming, there will be increasing revenues for IC vendors, rising from ‘just’ $2.5 billion in 2010 to almost $7 billion in 2016; an aggregate growth rate of 18%.

One particular threat to the growth of combination ICs will be further integration of wireless technologies into the baseband – a trend which Qualcomm started with the inclusion of GPS on its Snapdragon processors, and looks set to continue with the S4 line of processors it is currently developing.

However, wireless combination ICs are certainly here to stay in the medium-term, and the range of technologies they offer continues to expand. Blackberry’s Playbook recently became the first consumer electronics device to use a Bluetooth/FM/WLAN/GPS combination, highlighting the progress that has been made with the technology. The next step will be to squeeze NFC on board as well.