By Eric Auchard
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Investment in the fast-growing market for Internet-connected devices gathered pace this year and is set to attract more top U.S. technology and telecoms buyers of firms active in the market, a report from a merger advisory firm said on Thursday.
Corporate finance adviser Hampleton Partners' report said that $9.4 billion has been spent in the past three years to acquire so-called "Internet of Things" suppliers, with $5 billion, or more than half of the total, in the first nine months of 2014.
The report, which studied more than 100 transactions in the category, said that early consolidation has been led by Google but also included Cisco Systems, Samsung Electronics, Vodafone and Verizon.
Hampleton predicted that likely new acquirers in the coming year could include Intel, AT&T, Johnson Controls, Texas Instruments and Juniper Networks, which it said are under pressure to compete in the market. Other buyers to watch include Sierra Wireless and Telit Wireless Solutions.
Further fueling investment are venture capitalists that have pumped more than $1 billion into start-ups in the sector over the past year.
While average deal size has remained small at about $112 million, acquirers have paid rich Silicon Valley-level price premiums of 11.2 times revenue for publicly disclosed deals.
In May technology market research firm IDC estimated that 28 billion Internet-connected devices would be online by 2020, resulting in a global market worth more $7.1 trillion, against an estimated $1.9 trillion in 2013.
While technically as old as the Internet itself, the market has heated up in recent years as vendors look beyond computers, phones and other equipment that consumers and business users operate themselves to new types of automated machinery.
Such devices can include everything from hum-drum industrial sensor controls to critical auto safety features and personal heart-rate monitors.
The biggest deals to date were Google's $3.2 billion purchase of smart-thermostat maker Nest Labs in January and its roughly $1 billion 2013 deal to acquire Israeli location-mapping service Waze, topping the $612 million Verizon Communications paid to buy Hughes Telematics in 2012, Hampleton said.
(Editing by David Goodman)