Wi-Fi: The Next Major Wave?

Numerous wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) announcements inundated the Canadian market in the first half of 2003. Often touted as the next significant wave of business opportunity in the IT industry, wireless local area networks (WLANs) are considered to be a natural technological progression from the cabled

world. Removing the tethers of the wired world releases opportunities for enhanced productivity within the enterprise. The mounting end-user opportunities open up the market for IT resellers. Currently Wi-Fi is showing tendencies of market infancy, through its notable presence in loyalty programs across the country. As users reap the benefits of the technology, assuming competitive costs, industry experts expect strong growth in the wireless segment.

Wi-Fi refers to 802.11-based technologies that have passed the Wi-Fi certification process. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.’s (IEEE’s) 802.11b technology has been the most popular of late, and transmits data at a maximum rate of 11 Mbps. The Wi-Fi Alliance has recently adopted the 802.11g-standard, which accesses data transfer rates of 24-54 Mbps, and is backwards compatible with 802.11b gear. Both standards operate on the 2.4 GHz radio band. Wi-Fi products include handheld and notebook computers, wireless access points and WLAN networking cards.

Wireless Access Point (WAP) shipments are expected to increase throughout 2003, with consistent double-digit growth over 2002. In ERC’s 2003 first quarter Networking report, the forecast for WAP shipments was approximately 48,900 units in 2003, up 27 per cent from 2002. This expected increase in the wireless networking segment hinges upon enterprise Wi-Fi adoption. Resellers will play an integral role in the growth of the enterprise market pushing through 2003. Strategic partnerships with handheld PC, networking, notebook PC and security vendors will contribute to growth.

Compared to the traditional local area network (LAN), installation of a Wi-Fi network has been streamlined. However, the expertise of a local ISP (Internet Service Provider), SI (System’s Integrator) or IT reseller remains invaluable when designing and installing the network. Also, as the technology changes, so do the reseller opportunities. Recently, organizations such as Ottawa-based Boldstreet opened doors to regional ISPs and local resellers, offering opportunities to become wireless hotspot providers. The move for resellers to specialize in specific verticals is important as emerging business opportunities are targeted. Focusing directly on specific verticals has been a popular approach, and offers resellers the opportunity to distinguish themselves to corporate end users. As the technology morphs in new directions, so do the opportunities.

Success of the wireless technology as determined by the user adoption rate, hinges upon several factors. Not surprising, data security is top of the list. Also topping the list of concerns for industry success are technology costs, and of course, the national economy. The benefits of the technology include the ability to access corporate files and data, the Internet and e-mail anywhere. The reseller community is key to the success of this industry, bringing the technology to the customer. The market is still young, and as a result, it is dynamic and innovative.

WLAN and Wi-Fi are promoted as being the next best thing to happen to the IT industry. While many IT executives are sceptical with the concept of the “next best thing”, a cautious optimism exists. As both corporate and consumer users alike embrace the technology, the industry will experience growth. The reseller channel, bringing expertise of network design and installation to the enterprise, is a key factor in the growth of this segment.

Michelle Warren is an IT industry analyst for Evans Research Corp. of Toronto

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