Carrier WiFi

802.11b Puts Up a Fight

Don't throw out your old 802.11b wireless LAN cards just yet -- the latest research into future market share of chipset technologies suggests there could be further life in ye olde b (11-Mbit/s over 2.4GHz) specification yet.

Despite recent industry approval for the faster g specification (54-Mbit/s over 2.4GHz) and an onslaught of resulting products from major vendors (see 802.11g: Radio On and WiFi Alliance OKs 802.11g Gear), Communications Industry Researchers Inc. (CIR)’s findings indicate that 802.11b is likely to remain the dominant wireless LAN technology in commercial shipment until at least the end of next year.

“The use of 802.11b chipsets isn’t going to decline particularly quickly,” says Lawrence Gasman, president of CIR. “A number of vendors have the belief that in another six months b will be gone, but that just isn’t the case. It isn’t going to go away. When standards get established they don’t disappear overnight.”

The Gasman adds that future chipset demand for the competing standards will not necessarily focus on performance criteria. “An OEM will often have existing supplier relationships to think about,” he comments. “After all, this is the way people really make decisions in business today. Most of the OEMs will keep on buying b chips, at least in the short term.”

Table 1: Standards as Percentage of Total Chipsets Shipped
2003 2004 2007
802.11a 4.9 10.7 27.7
802.11b 63.6 40.5 7.5
802.11g 25 37.6 40.4
Multiprotocol 6.5 11.2 24.4
100 100 100
Source: CIR

CIR's predictions will be music to the ears of Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), which is currently only offering b Centrino chipsets to its customers and argues that b is still the only standard end-users need to get wirelessly connected (see Intel's Radio Follies).

However, CIR does adhere to the general market opinion that 802.11g will eventually play a dominant role in the market. It expects g gear to be the fastest growing sector of the market this year, rising from a quarter of overall chipset shipments in 2003 to better than 40 percent by 2007.

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung
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