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Pre-802.11n to drive home WLAN market in 2006

The 802.11n first draft was unanimously confirmed last week by the IEEE, but the standard will not be approved until 2007. This will stop consumers from purchasing products based on the 802.11n draft, and their purchases will account for about 15 percent of all home wireless routers shipped in 2006, according to research firm Dell'Oro group. Consumers will buy about 3 million pre-standard 802.11n APs and an equal number of PC Card clients for notebook PCs.

802.11n will offer a real-world throughput of about 100 Mbps, allowing consumers to stream video around the home. By 2009 Dell'Oro forecasts 802.11n gear to make up 90 percent of consumer WLAN shipments. Unlike home buyers, enterprises will wait for the standard to be ratified and notebooks to hit the market with integrated 802.11n chipsets, so the presence of 802.11n networks in the enterprise will begin around 2008. Consumers' preference for the faster technology will boost worldwide sales of WLAN equipment to $3.4 billion in revenue in 2006, up from $2.5 billion in 2005, according to Dell'Oro's forecast. This is good news after years of declining margins and slow revenue growth in the market, especially since early 802.11n gear will be priced at a premium.

Note that Dell'Oro's figures do not include DSL and cable modems with built-in WLAN capability, as these devices typically come from a service provider rather than being sold at retail. These devices make up a growing portion of the consumer WLAN market, and shipments of these devices doubled between 2004 and 2005 at the same time that shipments of stand-alone consumer WiFi routers and APs grew only 30 percent. The 802.11n gear will accelerate this trend as carriers roll out voice, video and data services in an effort to give consumers a way to share them around their homes.

The coming year will be good for WLANs in the enterprise, even if not owing to 802.11n. Rather, enterprises were holding off in 2005 as the industry saw a transition from traditional independent APs to WLAN switches with easier centralized security and management. The transition was highlighted by Cisco's acquisition of Airespace. Cisco dominates the enterprise market with a share of about 60 percent, and the company's Linksys division commands the consumer sector with about a 45 percent share. By 2009, the overall WiFi market, not including integrated routers, will reach $4.8 billion in revenue.

For more on the state of WLAN in the home and enterprise:
- see Stephen Lawson's Computerworld report

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