WLAN revenues dip as buyers wait for 11ac products

Revenues for wireless LAN products dropped 7% in Q1 2013 compared to the previous quarter. The drop in part is due to buyers delaying purchases as they wait for new WLAN products based on the so-called "Gigabit Wi-Fi" standard, IEEE 802.11ac, according to Infonetics Research.

For the quarter, global sales of enterprise WLAN access points, controllers and Wi-Fi phones totaled $1 billion, a rare quarter-to-quarter drop. But compared to Q1 2012, the period was up 18%. It was the 14th quarter in a row for double-digit revenue growth.

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Cisco now holds just over half the global WLAN market, with Aruba a distant No. 2. They're the only two vendors with double-digit share, according to Infonetics. Ruckus Wireless and HP are in a dead heat for third place. With Aruba, the three vendors account for slightly less than 25% of the market. "Others" comprise the remainder.

"As we've cautioned before, growth in the WLAN market is slowing as the transition to 802.11n winds down and buyers await the arrival of 802.11ac products," said Infonetics Research analysts Matthias Machowinski in a statement. He clearly sees this quarter-to-quarter drop as a temporary lag, since overall growth is being driven by still-strong trends: "more wireless devices, mobility, and the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement."

Some 11ac products are already being introduced. Aruba Network announced new 11ac access points at the recent CTIA show, following other vendors in past weeks. And the Wi-Fi Alliance is expected to launch an aggressive testing and certification program for these before July 2013.

Chipmaker Broadcom last week announced new 11ac "combo chips" specifically designed for "entry level" mobile devices including laptops, tablets and even smartphones.

The new BCM43162 and BCM4339 are single-chip 11ac products that for the first time integrate the complete RF front end, power amplifier and Low Noise Amplifier. The chips are support one transmit and one receive antenna, for one 5GHz spatial stream with PHY rate of 433Mbps. That kind of rate hinges on the client device being close enough to an 11ac access point to exploit the full range of features in the new standard.

The chip also supports 802.11n on 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, using the company's proprietary TurboQAM technology which boosts by up to 33% 11n data rates in the 2.4GHz band (if its connecting with another TurboQAM Broadcom radio chip).

Both chips are sampling with early access customers and start volume production in the second half of 2013.

Some products already sport earlier 11ac chips. The Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One smartphones, some LG Digital TVs and a variety of routers are all fitted with Broadcom's earlier product.

By the end of 2012, more than 5 billion Wi-Fi-enabled devices had shipped, according to a December report by ABI Research. The firm reports that number will double by 2015, fueled by Wi-Fi radios in connected homes and automobiles, and by emerging uses made possible by higher data rates and lower power use: mesh networking and backhaul, TV "whitespaces" networks, and sensor networks.

Another boost will start to happen in 2014 as Wi-Fi radios emerge for the 60GHz band.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: @johnwcoxnwwEmail: john_cox@nww.com

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