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Bluetooth market analysis: Hearing aid market mixes with consumer electronics

Bluetooth market analysis: Hearing aid market mixes with consumer electronics

By Editor 5 months ago

The market for hearing aids and hearables is changing – this is the conclusion of a market analysis by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) conducted by Juniper Research.

The new Bluetooth LE audio standard, for example, significantly improves the performance of audio devices. Now a new audio codec, LC3, has been released.
From hearing aid to multifunctional hearing system

Hearing aids that support a wide range of additional functions thanks to sensor technology and Bluetooth connectivity already make up a large proportion of the hearing systems available on the market today. In addition to medical hearing aids that compensate for hearing loss, over-the-counter hearing aids with adjustable hearing amplification are increasingly coming onto the market. According to Juniper Research, their market share worldwide will rise from 43 percent today to 71 percent in 2024.

In Germany, the situation is different: The German Medical Devices Act stipulates that hearing aids are not for sale over the counter and must be individually fitted by a hearing care professional. Moreover, since hearing aids are fully reimbursed by health insurance, such over-the-counter and low-cost devices do not yet play a significant role in this country.

Nevertheless, the market for hearing systems is on the move. Technological advances through Bluetooth LC3 make it possible to integrate functions into wireless headphones that support people with hearing loss. By enhancing headphones to compensate for certain frequency ranges that can no longer be perceived due to hearing loss, headphones will be a useful complement to medical hearing aids – for example, for listening to music while playing sports. Directional microphones and improved noise-canceling are also a major advance for the hard of hearing.

Bluetooth SIG releases LC3: Interoperability with all smartphone operating systems

The new Low Complexity Communications Codec (LC3) offers higher audio quality at reduced data rates. To enable wireless transmission of the audio signal, it must be compressed. While the previous Classic Audio standard allowed a reduction from 1.5 MB to 345 Kbps, the new Low Complexity Communications Codec (LC3) reduces the audio stream to 190 Kbps. Thanks to LC3, Bluetooth LE Audio can therefore transmit higher quality audio at half the bit rate, which also means half the energy consumption. Hearing aid manufacturers can use the energy savings achieved by LE Audio to develop hearing instruments with longer battery life and durability, or to design the devices to be even more discreet by using a smaller battery.

Another innovation is true interoperability for networking hearing aids with smartphones. Previous support for Bluetooth in hearing aids was based on proprietary implementations by hearing aid manufacturers. As a result, compatibility with different smartphone operating systems may be limited. LE Audio will enable true global interoperability by providing standardized support for Bluetooth technology in hearing aids, as users know it from other audio devices.

From entertainment to real-time audio mix

The ability to use hearing instruments to separate all incoming desirable sound sources, such as at concerts, from background noise and create an EQ balance extends the devices beyond hearing correction. From a niche use case today, this functionality will become increasingly common. It is enabled by the increasing amounts of data that can be transmitted to and from devices, as well as more energy-efficient signal processing via the LC3 codec in Bluetooth LE Audio.

For example, thanks to audio sharing, LE Audio will enable the transfer of audio tracks into headphones and hearing aids in public venues, such as theaters or conferences. While medical hearing aids compensate for hearing loss in everyday life, Bluetooth-based hearables complement the care of hearing impaired people in such scenarios and make it even easier to cope with everyday life with a hearing loss.

More information about Bluetooth LE Audio can be found here.

By Editor



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