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In Pictures: 15 most powerful wireless networking companies

Our list of power players in enterprise networking, and beyond

  • Wireless big shots It’s a wireless world, of course, and one only likely to get less dependent on physical connectivity in the future – but what that future looks like will depend a lot on the companies exerting the strongest influence on the industry. We checked in with analysts and tapped our own institutional expertise to create this list of the companies that, in our opinion, are the biggest influencers in enterprise wireless networking and beyond.

  • Qualcomm Whether you're the average geek on the street, keeping up-to-date on the latest gadgetry, or you're in IT, struggling to deal with the influx of employee-owned devices, the odds are good that you're dealing with Qualcomm hardware. In addition to being one of the biggest manufacturers of smartphone and tablet processors, it's also a leader in designing and building modems for those devices. The company’s Snapdragon 800 mobile system-on-a-chip is reportedly set to power several upcoming flagship gadgets, including the Samsung Galaxy Note III and Sony Xperia Z1.

  • AT&T Although Verizon has outpaced AT&T in terms of consumer market share, the older company isn't going anywhere. AT&T's a major player in a huge number of business communications technologies, from unified communications to the cloud to consulting. Despite a recent high-profile defection – with Starbucks dropping its in-store Wi-Fi services in favor of Google – the company is partnering with systems integrator CSC to make a push into the cloud.

  • Verizon Of course, that doesn't mean that Big Red is less of a player than AT&T. Given its aforementioned dominant market share among U.S. consumers, it’s clear that lot of the traffic to your brand-new cloud services will get there via Verizon's airwaves. The latest Kantar WorldPanel numbers show that Verizon is comfortably the biggest mobile carrier in the U.S., with 37% of the market.

  • Netgear While Netgear isn't the titan of enterprise infrastructure that some companies on this list are, its continued role as a go-to maker of home wireless routers and modems make it a critically important hardware vendor. It accounts for 12% of the total wireless access point market, according to ABI Research.

  • Cisco Frankly, no list of powerful companies in any part of the network world (hey, that's the name of the publication!) would be complete without Cisco. You name it, Cisco probably does it – everything from data center infrastructure down to edge routers. The $12.4 billion in revenues the company made in the last quarter set a new record for the profitable firm, which controls nearly 54% of the enterprise wireless LAN market, according to IDC.

  • Aruba Another no-brainer – Aruba Networks is one of the biggest wireless LAN providers around. Importantly in the current business climate, the company also provides a fairly robust BYOD solution. Aruba recently inked a deal with New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs, adding to its stable of government clients.

  • Apple The iPhone is probably more responsible than any other single device for ushering in the age of consumerization, and Apple products are still among the most important considerations when planning out a consumerized future. The upcoming release of the iPhone 5S (or 5C) will no doubt flood the market with still another wave of the company’s handsets.

  • Google Google's influence on the network is felt in a large number of small ways, rather than one major one – but between Android's impact on BYOD, Drive's generally smaller-scale cloud services, Sites' occasional enterprise use and the huge amount of less-important traffic generated by Google-owned sites like YouTube, it's an undeniable presence. The acquisition of Motorola Mobility, which was finalized last year, further bolstered the company’s presence in the wireless space.

  • Broadcom As Qualcomm is to smartphones, thus is Broadcom to wireless networking infrastructure – the company’s circuitry and network interface controllers are present in a vast proportion of networking gear around the world. Broadcom likes to boast that “99.98%” of all Internet traffic in the world touches their hardware at least once.

  • Ruckus Although they’re certainly still an up-and-comer, Ruckus has been, well, making one in the wireless space for some time. The company’s “smart Wi-Fi” technology is winning fans among service providers and large enterprises alike – including other players on this list, like AT&T and Verizon. Statistics from IDC show that the company’s market share increased by more than 37% on a year-over-year basis in the second quarter of this year.

  • Ubiquiti Another fast-rising company in the wireless space is Ubiquiti, which is gaining a reputation based on its advanced technology – including a 1Gbps “wireless fiber” backbone product called airFiber. The company recently celebrated shipping its 1 millionth access point by plating the unit in 24-karat gold, like Willy Wonka’s golden tickets. In addition to hardware, gold-plated or otherwise, Ubiquiti makes sophisticated software management tools for wireless communications.

  • HP Though the company isn’t the powerhouse it used to be, HP’s role in wireless networking has grown substantially of late, with the latest IDC figures showing a nearly 18% year-on-year increase in wireless LAN revenue for the second quarter of 2013. This growth may not be enough to offset sharp declines in PC sales, however.

  • AirWatch AirWatch is one of just a few vendors dedicated to management and security for enterprise mobile devices, for which it received high marks in this year’s Gartner Magic Quadrant ratings for mobile device management software. Gartner’s analysts praised the company’s aggressive pricing, flexibility and robust integration of third-party technology – all important considerations for MDM.

  • ALU Alcatel-Lucent is a venerable networking company, but it’s still an important part of the service provider landscape, and, thanks to its ownership of Bell Labs, a key driver of technological research. It recently partnered with Qualcomm for small cell development, a technology expected to help improve mobile network coverage in crowded urban areas. Additionally, ALU has received 10% of a blockbuster China Mobile build-out plan.

  • Huawei It’s tough to argue that Huawei isn’t aiming high – the Chinese firm has taken market share away from the mighty iPhone (in China, at any rate) and is competing in other markets with titans like Cisco simultaneously. In spite of lingering concerns about the company’s independence from the Chinese government, Huawei looks set to be a mobile player for some time.

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