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Network World - Shipments of 802.11n access points have accelerated since the IEEE standard was formally approved one year ago. But what the numbers alone don't show is the new reality of Wi-Fi networks: they are fast becoming the preferred way to connect and stay connected in the enterprise.
And that reality is sparking new demand from enterprise customers, and new innovation from wireless LAN vendors, to make Wi-Fi networks "work" like wired Ethernet – reliably, consistently, securely – for all kinds of traffic, including video.
"Enterprise wireless LAN vendors are continuing to work on spectrum management and other features for 2011 to create a self-adapting, self-healing wireless LAN," says Paul DeBeasi, vice president, research director, with Gartner's network and telecom strategies group. "The idea is a wireless network that will function like a wired network in terms of performance and reliability."
Ground zero for the 11n revolution is the college campus, with hospitals not far behind. Colleges and universities have a growing population of the unplugged: students who've never used an Ethernet cable. They have the expectation that whatever device they have will be able to connect wirelessly, and handle games, YouTube videos and "American Idol", all in addition to classroom applications.
What's more, says Jeffrey Sessler, director, information technology at Scripps College, Claremont, Calif., is that each student often now has "multiple Wi-Fi-enabled devices needing regular access." One student can have a game console, smartphone or Skype phone, laptop or tablet (or even both), printer, and Internet radio/alarm clock. (See "How can enterprise WLANs manage the bandwidth crush from mobile devices and multimedia apps?")
These changes are driving Sessler and other IT managers to design enterprise WLANs as mission-critical, production networks that are optimized for capacity and performance.
According to IDC, the most recent WLAN quarterly revenues and shipments show the market dynamics even in the face of a global and U.S. recession (see chart).
Over the last four quarters, through June 2010, shipments of enterprise-class 11abg access points in North America have fallen to 212,500 units from 288,000. During that same period, 11n shipments, hampered by the economy initially dropped from 190,00 in the third quarter of 2009 to a low of 167,300 in the fourth quarter, before rising in the second quarter of 2010 to 250,400. The fourth quarter marked the first quarter where 11n shipments topped 11abg, and by nearly 40,000 units.
Last year, vendors shipped 520,400 11n access points in North America. In the first half of 2010, they've already shipped 422,300.
"It's penetrating very fast, and eroding 11g [sales] faster than expected," says Edgar Figureroa, CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA), an industry group that certifies product interoperability under the "Wi-Fi" brand. The penetration is sped by the uptake of 11n in a wide range of consumer devices, including consumer electronics such as digital cameras and flat-panel TVs. The WFA has certified 1,696 devices for 11n, including 80 handsets.