Linksys & Cisco Still Top Wi-Fi Vendors

While predicting “solid second quarter growth” of Wi-Fi adoption by consumers and enterprises, Cisco and its wholly-owned subsidiary Linksys were named as the top WLAN vendors for both home and office, according to ABI Research. D-Link and Netgear came in second and third respectively in the consumer space, while Symbol Technologies and Proxim rounded out the top three enterprise-focused Wi-Fi vendors.

The ranking is based on a complex equation of SEC financial information and analyst briefings, along with revenue estimates and a measure of the percentage that a company devotes to Wi-Fi products, according to Phil Solis, senior analyst at the Oyster Bay, NY-based research firm.

“Broadband adoption, and its accompanying purchases of access points and adapters, have been boosting consumer spending,” according to the ABI Research analyst. “And there’s still plenty of room for more,” Solis predicts.

In June, Synergy Research Group reported that sales of devices targeted at small offices and the home “represented nearly 61 percent of the total WLAN market.”

Solis says the increasing number of homes subscribing to broadband Internet connections accounts for much of the improved picture for consumer Wi-Fi. However, the rush to broadband may eventually mean fewer Wi-Fi consumer sales as DSL and Cable modems incorporate features now found in standalone wireless routers and access points, says Solis.

Also affecting future sales of consumer Wi-Fi is the “rapid commoditization” of WLAN gear, according to the analyst.

“Prices for consumer equipment have been falling faster than those of enterprise-grade systems,” said Solis.

Wi-Fi sales to the enterprise sector may get a significant boost from recent advances in wireless security. The approval of 802.11i as a security protocol has given “organizations a much greater level of comfort with the technology,” says Solis.

“With the security issue out of the way,” said Solis, “we should see enterprise adoption continue to grow. It won’t be dramatic, but it will be solid.”

Although ABI Research refuses to specify the percentage of expected growth, Synergy Research Group released data in June showing that sales of WLAN gear dropped three percent to $308 million during the first four months of 2004. The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based research firm reported in June that while first quarter sales fell 16 percent for enterprise Wi-Fi, small office and consumer wireless sales rose seven percent during the same period.

Unlike the consumer market, where Solis says Wi-Fi adapter cards drove much of the home and small office spending on wireless, in the enterprise, so-called Enterprise Client Device shipments during the first quarter of 2004 “can be directly attributable to the market’s move toward embedding Wi-Fi capability into computing devices.” Between the last quarter of 2003 and the first quarter of 2004, shipments of such gadgets plummeted 44 percent, according to Synergy.

Rather than Wi-Fi access cards for notebooks or individual wireless access points, enterprises are concentrating on the infrastructure side.

“Larger [Wi-Fi] roll-outs are now easier,” says Aaron Vance, senior analyst at Synergy Research Group. Vance sees increased shipments of switches and light access points to enterprises.

Growth of the Wi-Fi market “is right on schedule” to continue the sales figures released in June, according to Vance.

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