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Analyst: Wireless network market keeps uphill climb

Posted: 30 Oct 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wireless network? WiFi? 802.11ac? tablets? smartphone?

According to IC Insights, wireless networking is now a standard capability in many electronic systems (e.g., laptop and desktop PCs, tablets, smartphones, residential gateways, etc.). Built-in wireless networking capability can also be found in many other electronic products such as printers, digital cameras, portable media players, e-book readers, video game consoles, speakers and entertainment systems, and TVs.

With the growing movement to conserve and monitor energy consumption, smart appliances with wireless networking capabilities are emerging. In addition, cellular service providers are increasing their use of wireless networks to offload data traffic from their strained cellular networks. The application space for wireless network technologies is vast and continues to expand.

From a unit perspective, the WiFi industry blew through the 2008-2009 recession as though it never existed. Demand for traditional WiFi products (e.g., routers, switches, access points) slowed up some during the recession, but that drop in demand was made up more than enough by newer WiFi applications such as smartphones and tablets.

Unit shipments of WiFi-enabled equipment surged 54 per cent in 2010, followed by 46 per cent in 2011 and another 36 per cent in 2012. For 2013, IC Insights estimates that WiFi-enabled system growth climbed 32 per cent to 2.1 billion units, another very good year for this market segment. From 2012 to 2017, the average annual growth rate for WiFi products is forecast to be a strong 25 per cent . Cumulative WiFi-enabled equipment unit shipments are forecast to reach the 10 billion mark in 2014, six years after achieving one billion cumulative units. Note that the equipment in the unit counts includes APs, NICs, routers, switches and other WiFi infrastructure products, as well as systems with built-in WiFi functionality such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, broadband gateways, video game consoles, 3G/4G small cell devices, etc.

While 802.11n has been the most successful version of WiFi yet, expectations for the next-generation standard802.11achave been set even higher. The extraordinary growth in the number of mobile wireless devices and the data-intensive applications they run has created high demand for wireless connectivity with much greater bandwidth, speed, range, reliability, security, etc. In order to provide reliable, uninterrupted service for a growing amount of bandwidth-intensive applications such as HD video, an exploding quantity of WiFi devices are being used, and for new WiFi applications such as wireless displays and indoor positioning, the new 802.11ac wireless standard is emerging from development labs.

Even though the 802.11ac standard is not expected to be finalized until early 2014, IC manufacturers started shipping "pre-ac" devices in mid-2012 and system products (routers, access points, laptops, smartphones, etc.) started appearing on the market soon after. The WiFi Alliance, which is the organisation that certifies whether or not products comply with the 802.11 standards, has split the 802.11ac specification into two certification phases called Wave 1 and Wave 2. Unlike 802.11n, which is available in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, 802.11ac uses only the 5GHz band (the IEEE describes it as the While most discussions pertaining to .11ac focus on its speed, another important improvement is that the technology can be as much as five times more energy-efficient than .11n because it can transfer a given amount of data in much less time, thereby saving on battery life.

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