Well, it would appear that it means good things. Contrary to most other segments, the wireless equipment market did not suffer during the recession, according to research firm IDC. In fact IDC’s Jamie Jin, Market Analyst, Network Technologies, estimated the 2009 market grew 15% compared to 2008, driven by both the consumer and enterprise market.
Gartner’s Research Director, Nick Ingelbrecht, says there is a “big increase in the usage of wireless broadband services” thanks to better coverage, faster throughput (HSPA+) and capacity, as well as more attractive pricing driven by competitive pressures.
“More than anything, consumers’ expectations about wireless networking have increased considerably in the past two years and the combination of reasonable access speeds, service pricing and applications have changed the wireless networking landscape,” he explains. “Carriers are also getting better at managing the wireless broadband demands on their networks, and are looking to employ technologies such as mobile deep packet inspection to control and shape traffic more effectively, and developing quality of service capabilities to prioritise traffic.”
In Gartner’s Worldwide Wireless Connectivity Market Share Ranking for 2009, $4.36 billion of wireless connectivity revenue is made up of wireless LAN, Bluetooth and GPS chip revenue. Although it decreased by 1.8% from 2008 to 2009, wireless LAN infrastructure represented 86% of the total market opportunity.
Other indicators, however, are positive. A Gartner spokesperson states: “Mobile and wireless services continue to drive growth in the number of subscribers and the level of revenue. The continued development of mature cellular, WiMAX and wi-fi technologies for mobile data services is creating new standards, new companies and new opportunities.”
The research firm also predicts that spending on enterprise WLAN equipment and software will rise from $1.9 billion in 2009 to $3.6 billion in 2013 – that’s a compound annual growth rate of 17%.
One of the major drivers of the WLAN growth has been the 802.11 standards, which have increasingly improved the speed and reach of the wireless network. Forrester Research wrote in a report (Vendor Landscape: Enterprise 802.11n Infrastructure) in September 2009 that: “Forrester has tracked the growth in WLAN year over year and seen a consistent 10% growth in the number of enterprises using 802.11 technology to unwire workers and their computing devices.” A survey by the company of North America and Europe found that nearly 65% of enterprises are currently using or expanding their use of wi-fi-based WLANs. Added to this, the ratio of desktops to laptops is now 60-to-40 in businesses today, “and we expect laptops to continue taking share from desktops, driven by a more mobile workforce”.
IDC says that the formal approval for the IEEE 802.11n standard in particular spurred wireless adoption, thanks to significant improvements in speed and range.
IDC’s Jin says: “The 802.11n standard, which lifted WLAN speed and range from the previous a, b and g specifications will bring more business opportunities to the reseller and system integrator. Apart from basic infrastructure refreshment, higher level network service solutions such as voice over WLAN, wireless video surveillance and some industry-specific solutions will drive both revenues and profits for resellers and system integrators.”
Predictions by Gartner in the co-ordinated access point segment, suggest that 802.11n will account for 90% of shipments by 2013, up from 37% in 2009. The 802.11n protocol will accelerate the deployment of wireless LANs in the next five years, resulting in an increasing number of mobile-PC-enabled workers relying on wireless to connect to the enterprise network, it said. The aforementioned Forrester report went as far as to say, “Now is the time to plan a refresh or build-out strategy for the WLAN in your organisation and, as part of that, take a stand on how 802.11n will be used in your organisation. Competitive firms will more efficiently use wireless networking and understand what the increased use of an 802.11n installation means for adding services to their wireless repertoire.”
Gartner agrees, because most of the market conditions needed for 802.11n to be aggressively adopted are already in place. These include a growing installed base of 802.11n-enabled laptops and the ability for end-users to implement additional radios to access points via a software upgrade. All indications for Gartner are that approximately 17% of the 385 million mobile PCs used by workers worldwide will rely on wireless to connect to the corporate LAN by 2014.
Gartner’s Ingelbrecht suggests you keep an eye out for other technologies too, such as wireless gigabit (WiGig), “which will provide a 60GHz in-room wireless technology”. Gartner reports also state that HSPA+, which Telecom and Vodafone are currently upgrading to in New Zealand, offers faster access speeds to mobile users, typically up to several megabits per second. “These faster-access mobile networks enable a compelling mobile broadband experience.” On the access network side, smart antennas and self-organising networks automate and make more efficient use of limited radio resources. At the back end of the networks, several technologies are emerging to “control and shape” traffic more effectively, such as mobile deep packet inspection (DPI) and quality of service (QoS). And wireless isn’t just about wi-fi – there’s Bluetooth, WiMAX et al to consider too.
In Forrester’s report The Who/What/Where Of WiMAX In The US (October 2009), Douglas S. Williams, says: “After years of anticipation and temptation, true WiMAX has officially arrived. After a slow initial rollout to four US markets in the past year, network expansion has accelerated, with as many as 22 new markets expected to come online in the last four months of 2009.” Obviously this is US data, but where the States lead, the world usually follows (see p 10 for New Zealand commentary). “The launch of true WiMAX means that more consumers in more markets will have more options available to them for obtaining on-the-go broadband connectivity – something in which 62% of North American online consumers with access to a laptop are interested,” says Williams.
It may appear that cloud and social networking have little to do with wireless, and IDC’s Jin says they are not having a significant impact on the enterprise wireless networking market. Having said that, Jin adds, “those two new web applications do drive the consumer wireless router market, as the new high-speed wireless technology is the most convenient way for connecting different types of devices such as laptops, smartphones, home storages and media hubs at home to the internet”.
Gartner agrees that the popularity of cloud computing will increase demand for wired and wireless connectivity, and anecdotally Ingelbrecht says consumer cloud services and applications like Facebook are huge traffic drivers for the wireless networking market. “We have seen in a few instances where iPhone traffic has created very heavy congestion on public wireless networks – so the impact has been extraordinary.”
Exciting times ahead
These days the WLAN isn’t just for supplemental access anymore, as Forrester explains, and the new protocol has made streaming video over the wireless network a reality, something that will play an important role in collaboration efforts in the future as videoconferencing grows in strength.