Networks Going Wireless at Home and Work

The market for home networks that do not rely on wires, otherwise known as wireless local area networking (WLAN, definition), is poised to grow to $243 million in 2001, up from $123 million last year, according to Allied Business Intelligence (ABI). By 2006, the global market will be worth $2.4 billion.

In 2000, wireless solutions accounted for 34 percent of the “no new wires” home networking units shipped, with HomePNA-based phoneline solutions accounting for 63 percent. By 2006, wireless will account for 48 percent of nodes as WLAN products hit more consumer-friendly cost points and manufacturers look to embed wireless functionality.

“The immense consumer and OEM interest in WLANs will translate into wireless leading phoneline and powerline solutions in home networking market adoption,” said Navin Sabharwal, ABI Vice President of Residential and Networking Technologies. “We expect that 802.11b [definition] will be the predominant wireless home networking protocol over the next few years, with HomeRF [definition] playing a far more peripheral role.”

ABI’s study found that while HomeRF accounted for 58 percent of wireless home networking nodes in 2000, its market share has been eroding in 2001. This year, 802.11b is expected to account for at least 71 percent of wireless nodes shipped, up from a 42 percent share in 2000.

Wireless networks are also increasingly popular on the enterprise level. According to Frost & Sullivan revenue from enterprise wireless markets reached $217.2 million in 2000 and will increase to $557.9 million by 2007.

The trend toward wireless networks in business has been intensified by the transition to voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP).

“With WLANs becoming more prevalent, companies are looking to leverage their wireless investment by sending voice and data traffic over the same medium,” said Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst Nitin Babbar. “The wireless market will see considerable growth as the integration of this advanced technology and the increasing necessity for in-building connectivity continues.”

Most enterprise users of wireless network technology remain in markets like retail, hospitality, healthcare and manufacturing, but Frost & Sullivan expect any market where employees are highly mobile to pursue wireless communication solutions in the near future. Price remains an obstacle, however, as on average a wireless extension costs approximately $1,000 per user to an organization, compared to $300 for a wired extension.

Public LANs, which would complement wireless networks at the home and office, will be able to deliver next generation wireless services to mobile users in airports, convention centers, hotels and other indoor locations. But first it must overcome some obstacles, according to research by Datacomm Research Co.

“Our research indicates that public wireless LANs are the superior solution for providing next generation wireless services to indoor and campus hot spots,” said Peter Rysavy, renowned wireless data consultant and principal author of the report. “Public wireless LANs can handle large volumes of data at significantly lower costs, offer a migration path to speeds of 100 megabits per second and higher, and deliver additional capacity with pinpoint accuracy compared to leading 3G technologies.”

In order to be successful, public WLAN operators must join forces with 3G mobile phone carriers to achieve necessary coverage and service bundling, according to Datacomm. Likewise, third generation mobile phone operators need public WLANs to offload heavy indoor traffic from their lower-speed, wide area networks. Unlike private WLANs, public WLANs require subscription control, roaming agreements and centralized network management. Roaming is crucial to maximizing coverage.

There are significant e-commerce opportunities for public WLAN operators, particularly those offering location-dependent, targeted promotions. While the mobile phone industry struggles to implement location technology, the location of a public WLAN user is readily available. Public wireless LANs could play a major role in the distribution of multimedia content. Users at airports and on airplanes represent captive audiences for advanced business and entertainment services.

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