Wi-Fi’s Good, but not Great, Quarter

Carl Weinschenk

The 802.11 sector is one of the most entertaining in all of telecommunications. The speed and range of the wireless capabilities it offers are constantly advancing and, in at least one case— 802.11ad—the focus is on driving very useful shorter range capabilities.

The fun part is that innovation is fast and even a bit furious. New variants of the standard enter the pipeline on a frequent basis.

But even 802.11 is not immune to the vagaries of the market. Infonetics’ directing analyst Matthias Machowinski reports that worldwide wireless local-area network (WLAN) revenue slowed during the second quarter as compared to the year-ago period. According to his research, which was reported upon by CIO, revenue increased 14 percent during the second quarter of 2013. The gain last year was 30 percent.

It is, apparently, not that 802.11 as a whole has lost any luster:

The major event this quarter was initial shipments of enterprise class access points based on 802.11ac—which is the latest standard for WLANs and promises increased speeds, network reliability and the ability to handle more users. But the impact of 802.11ac on overall sales will be minor this year because many enterprises have just upgraded to 802.11n, Machowinski said.

The growth that did occur was driven by service providers bought gear for outdoor use and for firms providing coverage to indoor areas such shopping malls, the story said.

Indeed, there are so many flavors of 802.11 available that keeping them all straight can be tricky. 802.11ac, as the quote above suggests, will be the successor—sooner or later—to 802.11n. It is dubbed “Gigabit WiFi.”

802.11ad is another new variant of 802.11. It has a different profile than the other members of the crew. More commonly referred to as WiGig, 802.11ad is a Maserati. PCWorld says that it can reach 25 Gigabits per second (Gbps) and quotes vendor Wilocity as saying that it can transfer 1,000 photos in five seconds and download a 1080p HD movie in three minutes.

But, like a Maserati, a long trip is not necessarily the best way to use 802.11ad. WiGig operates in the 60 GHz frequency range, which means that its footprint is very small. Instead of the increasingly expansive reach that the earlier iterations of 802.11 offered, WiGig/802.11ad is better thought of as a Bluetooth-like technology.

The Wi-Fi Alliance clearly sees the upside of 802.11ad. The consortium this week announced WiGig CERTIFIED, an interoperability program that could result in certified products hitting the market in 2014. The press release outlines the plans, which include projects aimed at use of WiGig on data, display and audio applications.

Though it had a quarter that was a bit less explosive than others in recent memory, 802.11 is more deeply entwined than ever in how services providers, businesses and consumers use their mobile devices. That—despite a bump or two in the road—is not going to change.

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