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2005: A Switch Odyssey?

There's growing optimism that corporate buyers will step up their interest in 802.11 wireless LAN networking gear by the latter half of 2004 and into 2005.

So far, most business customers have merely dabbled with wireless LAN technology. But some analysts are now piping up that this test phase will be followed up with the real payoff.

In-Stat/MDR has just released a report tagging 2005 as the year that enterprise wireless LAN will really take off. "There's probably going to be more of a movement into general enterprises in 2005," says Gemma Paulo, senior analyst for the research firm.

She highlights two major factors that will underpin acceptance of WLAN in the enterprise:
  • 95 percent of laptops shipped in 2005 will have wireless LAN onboard, as companies like Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and -- to a lesser extent -- Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) carve up the client side of the industry.

  • The infrastructure market is evolving, with access-point leader Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), established incumbents, and a host of startups working on developing systems that are easier to install, manage, and secure than earlier standalone systems and that solve the main problems that have discouraged large corporations from installing 802.11.
Meanwhile, Chris Kozup, senior research analyst for Meta Group Inc. says that, "based on discussions with clients," he expects to see more widescale adoption of 802.11 in the enterprise in the latter half of 2004.

Some of the startups involved with the business are –- unsurprisingly -- a tad more optimistic, but even they largely agree with the idea that this market will really start heating up later in 2004.

"I actually see 2004 as the year when rollouts start," says switch startup Aruba Networks Inc.'s co-founder Keerti Melkote, adding that "very large, non-technology industries" are putting out RFPs for wireless LAN infrastructure now. However, he agrees that rollouts will "ramp up" in 2005.

George Prodan, senior VP of worldwide marketing at Trapeze Networks Inc. reckons that the market is in an "early adopter" phase at the moment. But he thinks major rollouts are likely to happen in late 2004, rather than 2005. "I don't think it'll be that late," he says.

The question of when the enterprise market for WLAN starts to expand is of key importance to startups like Aruba and Trapeze, which are largely betting their futures on the hope that corporations will eventually install and run large, centrally managed WLAN networks.(see Aruba's Switch Pitch and Trapeze's High Wireless Act).

In fact, the future of the startups in this market is something about which analysts like In-Stat's Paulo are much less certain. "Nobody is exactly sure what will happen with them, whether they are going to be consolidated," she says (see WLAN Switch Shakeout Looms?).

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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