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Wi-Fi Firms Look Ahead to RFID, VoIP

SAN JOSE, CALIF. -- As the Wi-Fi sector passes through another stage of development, industry leaders are converging in Silicon Valley this week to discuss the latest trends.

Jupitermedia's Wi-Fi Planet Fall Conference & Expo, which started Monday, is bringing together manufacturers, sellers and buyers of Wi-Fi related technology alongside business users looking to make strategic buying decisions. (Jupitermedia is the parent company of internetnews.com.)

Keynote speakers this time around include James Keegan, a vice president with IBM's wireless e-Business division, and Computer Associates CTO Yogesh Gupta. Companies like AirTight Networks, Azimuth Systems, BelAir Networks, Chantry Networks, Strix Systems, LogiSense, and Texas Instruments are expected to make announcements.

The three-day event in San Jose, Calif., also features nearly 50 sessions, including Wi-Fi Outdoors; Hotspot Central; RFID; Securing the WLAN; and Wi-Fi Telephony & Convergence.

Many firms and consortiums are now spending resources and R&D dollars exploring the aspects of 802.xx technologies. Many are investigating how other disruptive technologies like radio frequency identification (RFID) , Voice over IP, and WiMAX or 802.16 can enhance the Wi-Fi experience outside of the local coffee shop or home network.

For the Wi-Fi community, this future confluence of technologies could be very good news, as it may open up new channels of revenue both for service providers and equipment manufacturers. In fact, this convergence is already influencing market trends.

Many analysts suggest using phones for data applications is one of the things pushing the growth of wireless spending. The push could potentially lay the groundwork for Wi-Fi acceptance, as carriers offer more data connectivity services.

Carriers are already making use of Wi-Fi, not as a product offering per se, but rather as an enhancement to their present wireless products.

Consumers are also fueling the next stage of the Wi-Fi culture. New figures published this month show a nine percent jump in Wi-Fi hardware sales between the second and third quarters of 2004.

Worldwide WLAN hardware revenue reached more than $785 million. Drawing on a strong demand for mobile data, shipment of WLAN hardware jumped 31 percent over the same time, according to London-based Infonetics Research. By 2007, Infonetics predicts, Wi-Fi hardware sales will reach $3.7 billion, leaping 49 percent over 2003 revenue.

A majority of companies are also recognizing WLANs as a productivity tool for their employees and a more cost-effective alternative to wired networks. A recent report published by JupiterResearch suggests deployments are growing in size, but companies are not, for the most part, willing to go completely wireless. Just 6 percent of mid/large-size companies with current deployments have 90 percent or more of their employees on a WLAN; 22 percent of mid/large-size companies expect to offer such broad wireless access to employees in 2005.

Budgets for WLANs are also on the rise, according to JupiterResearch. The percentage of companies spending more than $10,000 annually is expected to grow from 26 percent in 2003 to 35 percent in 2004. Not only are smaller companies spending more, but also as the industry matures, larger entities are beginning to test and buy large-scale deployments.

But the WLAN future isn't all rosy. The use of Session Initiated Protocols , VoIP and e-mail will all be competing for bandwidth with no clear winner, according to Jeff Meyer of Packeteer Networks, maker of software that manages application traffic going over TCP/IP networks.

"Only 20 percent of organizations know what's truly running on their networks," he said, adding that mission-critical traffic can be squashed by such things as large files sent to multiple users or consumer file-sharing applications.

And, if the network is under attack, he said, the wireless network is the first to go down.

Editor's note: internetnews.com senior editor Susan Kuchinskas contributed to this report.