RealTime IT News

Consumer Wi-Fi: The Next Generation

In the early days of Wi-Fi, 802.11b devices were effectively pushed into the workplace through the back door, riding on a wave of consumer popularity.  Now, a new study by ABI Research suggests that 802.11n may follow suit.

Starting the next wave at home

In its August 2007 research report entitled Wi-Fi in Consumer Electronics, ABI analysts predicted that 802.11n will quickly finds its way into network-connected consumer entertainment products, rapidly outpacing alternative technologies like HomePlug and HomePNA.  Growing interest in distributing audio and video content throughout the residence is expected to spur the sale of 216 million consumer-market 802.11n chipsets by 2011.


According to ABI, communication between consumer devices like Audio Streamers, TVs, PVRs, Set-Top Boxes, Digital Cameras, Media Players, and Game Consoles was previously impeded by lack of standards.  With new standards like Viiv, DLNA and Microsoft’s Media Center Extender paving the way for interconnecting these types of devices, manufacturers will need a broadly accepted high-speed transport.  Given its greater reach and bandwidth, 802.11n is particularly well suited to fill this role.


“Many consumer electronics vendors see Wi-Fi as the primary way to get network-delivered content to their devices,” says research director Michael Wolf. “As consumers increasingly source video content on the Internet and look toward multi-room distribution, older Wi-Fi technologies don’t have the bandwidth to deliver this content, particularly over longer ranges. 802.11n, in particular 5 GHz solutions using 40 MHz-wide channels, will help alleviate these constraints.”

Rippling into the workplace

Several manufacturers that will play major roles in driving the 802.11n-based consumer electronics market—Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco/Linksys—are also key players in the enterprise WLAN market.


According to the ABI report, “As laptop OEMs make 802.11n standard on their high-end laptops, this will have a natural pull-through effect on 802.11n-enabled home routers. The wider installed base of 802.11n routers and gateways, combined with increased demand for IP-delivered content on consumer electronics, will push large consumer electronics brands to integrate Wi-Fi in their devices.”


Consumers are generally less reluctant to embrace immature technologies, particularly when the perceived benefits outweigh any added complexity or risk of failure.  This trend has already been demonstrated in the Wi-Fi market, where early MIMO-based routers and more recent pre-standard 802.11n products have both enjoyed success.


Meanwhile, enterprises have been slow to step up to 802.11n.  Surveys like the 2007 State-of-the-WLAN Report indicate that most businesses will continue to wait for the 802.11n standard to become final before pulling the trigger on widespread next-generation WLAN upgrades.


In the interim, consumers will start bringing their 802.11n-enabled products into the workplace – especially mobile devices such as laptops, media players, and dual-mode phones that can easily be connected to both home and business networks.  As consumers get hooked on multi-media over 802.11n at home, they become even more likely to bring such consumer electronic gadgets to work with them.


And so, history may once again repeat itself, with 802.11n business adoption being gently nudged along by workers who have come to appreciate the benefits of this new flavor of Wi-Fi at home.