At Least Wi-Fi Vendors Enjoyed 2008

Carl Weinschenk

Here is something most people don't see regularly, at least these days: Good news.


This week, In-Stat and the Wi-Fi Alliance released numbers on for Wi-Fi chip sales, and the news is all positive. The organizations said that overall sales increased 26 percent in 2008 to 387 million. The leading users were cell phones (a 52 percent increase to 56 million units), consumer devices (51 percent to 48 million units), portable consumer devices (33 percent to 71 million units) and laptops/netbooks (23 percent to 144 million units). The story says that the positive momentum is expected to continue this year.


Such growth always goes hand-in-glove with vendor creativity, since savvy folks see where the money is. There was great evidence of such Wi-Fi creativity at Macworld and CES, shows that crammed themselves into the first two weeks of the year. While the announcements focused on consumer gear, much of which can be used by SOHOs and SMBs. The creativity-and perhaps suitably tweaked versions of these specific products-is useful at the enterprise level.


As the Wi-Fi Alliance/In-Stat analysis shows, one reason that Wi-Fi is showing so much strength is because it fits nicely into a wide variety of devices. Motorola is covering all the bases with the introduction of the wi4 WiMax CPEi 775. It combines the 802.11b and g versions of Wi-Fi (but not 802.11n) with WiMax and VoIP ATA and Ethernet ports. In short, the product family is a wireless hub that, through the Ethernet connection, connects to the home's wired network and the service provider beyond. The press release claims that the company excels at the tricky business of integrating various wireless technologies without causing them to step on each other. The release includes a short video by the project's product line manager.


D-Link also is combining Wi-Fi in an innovative manner. The company used CES to introduce the DIR-685. The core of the device is an 802.11n home network router which is integrated with network-attached storage (NAS), SharePort (for linking to scanners and printers) and a 3.2-inch LCD monitor aimed at displaying photos, desktop applications and network performance, the company says. The DIR-685 features an internal antenna and resident FTP server and takes a variety of approaches to conserving


It certainly isn't surprising that Intel got into the CES/Wi-Fi act as well. The company introduced software that enables Centrino 2-based notebooks to create personal-area networks (PANs) consisting of Wi-Fi-enabled devices. The story says that the approach is to create a second Wi-Fi link on Intel 5100 and 5300 Wi-Fi Centrino chips. A link to the Internet is created via the Internet Connection Sharing capabilities in Windows Vista, the story says. The writer points out that such networks already can be created using Bluetooth. Intel also introduced the My Wi-Fi graphical user interface to manage the network when it is running on Vista.


Finally, this week at Macworld in San Francisco, Eye-Fi's said it is developing an iPhone application in which Wi-Fi is used to deliver digital photos to photo sharing, social networking services or elsewhere on the Web. The service will be positioned for consumers, but clearly has corporate implications.


It's good to see a segment that is doing well. It should be an interesting year as Wi-Fi -- alone and when teamed with other wired and wireless networking approaches -- continues to show up in new and innovative settings.

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