IDC: Smartwatches will surge by 2020, but wireless networks can take it


Smartwatches are on track to surge by the end of the decade, but wireless carriers shouldn't worry too hard about the devices stressing their networks, IDC noted.

Total smart wearables shipments – defined as any wearable device that can run third party apps – are set to hit 76.6 million shipments in 2020, according to a recent IDC forecast. That's a 5-year increase of 30.6 percent over 2015 levels.

Yet Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC's Wearables team, said even today's wireless capacity could probably handle the swell, to say nothing of the promises related to 5g development.

“I think they could handle it,” Llamas said of today's networks in an interview with FierceWireless. “I don't think a lot of the applications will need constant activity.”

Llamas explained that most users won't frequently use smartwatches' heaviest data functions, and thus the increase in their numbers won't necessarily correspond to a similar increase in data.

“I don't expect that everyone will want to have that kind of Dick Tracy-esque experience,” Llamas said, referencing the comic book character with the then-unthinkable smartwatch. “That is, I don't expect a lot of video calls and voice calls placed back and forth. The big thing for me is: How much data can we reasonably expect?”

For one thing, current users' data needs may be unusually high, because those most likely to own a smartwatch now are generally power users and early adopters who are likely to use more data-heavy functions. As more casual users enter the market, Llamas said he expects their data use to be more modest. That will mean the increased shipments have diminishing effects on total wearable data use.

“To date, smartwatches have remained in the realm of brand loyalists and tech cognoscenti, but we expect that to change over the next few years," he said in the press release.

Furthermore, even as smartwatches grow in popularity, certain limitations will cap their data use potential. Llamas noted that data use will be limited by smartwatches':

  • Battery life: Current smartwatches boast “about a day” of battery life with modest use, but that would decrease with heavy application and data use.

  • Wi-Fi connections: How often smartwatches are connected to Wi-Fi will change their impact on the networks.

  • Smartphone overlap: Llamas noted that users who adopt smartwatches are almost certainly smartphone users, and won't be likely to give up those devices when they get smartwatches. That means many smartwatch applications are likely to simply displace equivalent smartphone functions rather than add to the data use.

Of course, by the time wearable devices are advanced, ubiquitous and essential, 5g technology will likely also have advanced enough to enable their use. The technology, which will allegedly provide sufficient coverage and capacity to enable the expected explosion in internet-connected devices, is still a couple years away.

But apparently, that time frame works just fine for the smartwatch and wearables markets.

For more:
- see the IDC forecast

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