The Canadian market for Wi-Fi networking products is booming. Evans Research Corporation (ERC) estimates that in 2003 sales of Wi-Fi access points, bridges and NICs will be slightly more than $80.0 million dollars. When revenues from related software and professional services are added, this figure
The term Wi-Fi (indicating Wireless Fidelity) is a brand owned by an alliance of industry manufacturers to promote products that comply with one of the standards in the IEEE 802.11 family. So far the greatest number of devices sold conform to the 802.11b standard, which allows data transmission at the speed of 11 MBPS in the 2.5Ghz radio frequency band. In July 2003, the first sales took place in North America of 802.11g products that offer data transmission at 54 MBPS in the 2.5 Ghz band and which are backward compatible with 802.11b products.
The arrival of 802.11g products is representative of the rapid progress that Wi-Fi technology is now making on multiple fronts. Revenues are growing, standards are being ratified on a timely basis and new products are coming to market.
Penetration of Wi-Fi technology in the enterprise will accelerate because users have discovered that the implementation is not difficult. The Wi-Fi infrastructure products such as access points and bridges are easy to install. Equally important is that IT managers have found that Wi-Fi NICs, that manufacturers of notebooks and handheld computers install in their devices, inter-operate well with the infrastructure products. In the words of Marcel Charrois, Sales Engineer, Avaya Canada Corp – Enterprise Communications Group: “”Today, there really is peace of mind for the enterprise buyer of Wi-Fi products that there will be a base level of interoperability between the clients and the infrastructure.””
In the past, the issue of security was raised as a reason for not deploying Wi-Fi products. WEP (Wired Equivalency Privacy) the security mechanism of the first 802.11 standard that was adopted in 1997 was a satisfactory solution for public access points and home users but had several shortcomings for the enterprise customer requiring a high level of security. The cryptographic features were not up to enterprise standards. At the same time, WEP had no key management mechanism, which meant essentially that it lacked user authentication capability. How serious these shortcomings were in practice is questionable because there were a wide range of third-party security solutions that provided the robust security and user authentication services required by the enterprise.
Today, however, there is simply no reason to be concerned about security for wireless networks. A new Wi-Fi security solution called WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) has been created that delivers strong cryptography and true native authentication capability. In April 2003, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced that it had certified its first group of WPA compliant products. In the words of Chris Bazinet, National Manager of Product and Technology Marketing of Cisco Systems Canada: “”WPA has solved the shortfalls of WEP in the enterprise. The case is closed. The level of security that is available to an IT department is as good for the wireless network as it is for the wired network.””
The end-user organization contemplating the implementation of Wi-Fi will find that there is an abundance of software available. The vast majority of application developers in virtually every industry vertical have either written modules that take advantage of Wi-Fi technology or are in the process of doing so.
The technology is rock solid and the solutions are available. Nonetheless, the rate of revenue growth, which in the past has been in the triple digits and high double digits, will decline considerably in the years ahead. Organizations will deploy Wi-Fi as they discover ways that Wireless networking will allow them to save money on operations or to generate incremental sales. The technical obstacles have become trivial. However, companies must find business opportunities for Wi-Fi, make business cases and change human systems. In this context, revenues from wireless equipment, software and services will be able to maintain steady but not explosive growth for many years to come.