The growing breadth of IoT devices, machines, and use cases combined with additional radio spectrum and protocols is creating more complexity in designing and integrating antennas into products.
A new analysis by global tech market advisory firm ABI Research examines how the antenna market is evolving to address challenges specific to IoT. Findings from the research report ‘IoT Antennas: Technologies, Markets, and Evolution application analysis report’ shows that growing competition and technology complexity will drive 7.2 billion IoT antenna shipments in 2025.
The report also highlights key technology trends, as well as shifting business models by antenna manufacturers and system-level approaches to RF design.
Tancred Taylor, IoT hardware & devices research analyst at ABI Research says, “Increased radio complexity, device miniaturization, lower power consumption, and a complex certification landscape are among many factors making integration of antennas more difficult.”
“These challenges are well-known in the smartphone industry. However, unlike the smartphone market which comprises few OEMs and high product volumes, many OEMs in IoT do not have the in-house specialization to address this complexity and have a much broader range of products they want to create. This generates a large opportunity for antenna manufacturers to offer support and additional services throughout the project design cycle and offer value by moving beyond their traditional role as component manufacturers,” Taylor added.
Vendors are changing their approaches to ensure they are addressing the unique needs of each device. In most cases, manufacturers such as Antenova or Ignion are building out their off-the-shelf product lines to complement or replace custom antenna offerings, helping smaller OEMs get devices to market faster, with less complexity, and often with lower costs.
Taylors explains that, while use case analysis indicates custom-designed antennas will remain the largest share of shipments, the shift toward offering a broader selection of pre-built and tunable components could upset the dominance of custom antennas by making IoT device design and product assembly more accessible.
Other vendors, such as Laird, Taoglas, Linx Technologies, or PSA Group are increasing the product portfolios to act as a one-stop-shop for more parts of the solution, as well as working more closely in partnerships with other vendors to bring joint products to market and simplify design and certification processes. A potentially disruptive entry to the one-stop-shop supplier group is Quectel, the largest supplier of modules, who recently added antennas to their portfolio.
In a field where technology breakthroughs must clear constraints of physics, many antenna vendors are further turning toward software and services to deliver the best results. Approaches vary from offering design and simulation services or certification assistance (e.g., Radientum, CoreIoT), to helping an OEM throughout the design cycle of a product (e.g., Taoglas, Laird, Airgain). Antenna manufacturers are looking to evolve their skills and capabilities by incrementally building out in-house expertise, as well as through acquisitions.
Antenna OEMs need to think strategically about their business models to stay relevant in not only a more competitive market but also an increasingly diverse technological landscape. “Both business and technical variables need consideration ranging from partnerships that improve component interoperability and expand sales channels, to new technologies such as active antenna systems and dynamic tuning chips. It will become increasingly common to see vendors with a breadth of products and services,” Taylor concludes.