Wi-Fi growth set to drive sales of new Ethernet speeds

Enterprises will snap up 2.5-Gigabit and 5-Gigabit Ethernet as they upgrade wireless LANs, Dell'Oro said

Steadily growing demand for faster enterprise wireless LANs in the next four years is expected to drive up sales of both Wi-Fi gear and a new type of Ethernet for connecting next-generation access points.

Most enterprises aren't ripping out cables in favor of Wi-Fi or even fitting out brand-new workspaces with no Ethernet jacks, but they are putting up more and faster access points to get the best of both worlds -- wired and wireless, according to Dell'Oro Group analyst Chris DePuy.

Wi-Fi gear in the so-called "Wave 1" of the IEEE 802.11ac standard, which can reach up to 1.3Gbps (bits per second) depending on configuration, has already taken over the enterprise Wi-Fi market, DePuy said. The second generation of 11ac, the so-called "Wave 2," with speeds as high as 7Gbps, will probably come to enterprises in the second quarter.

The Gigabit Ethernet connections at the edge of most enterprise networks today aren't fast enough to feed the new, faster access points, and 10-Gigabit Ethernet requires new cable in most businesses, so the IEEE is creating a new standard just to link up to faster Wi-Fi. The new specification is expected to define both 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps Ethernet and will work with existing wires. Two different industry groups say they've pretty well worked out how to do this, so there may be a battle over the final standard. DePuy expects that fight to be finished in the next year and products to ship before 2016.

The new Ethernet speeds are likely to be a hit: By 2019, as many as one-quarter of all ports at the edge of enterprise networks will be built for 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps, DePuy predicts. Network architects won't necessarily need all those ports to connect their fast access points, but they'll buy switches filled with them and use the extras for Ethernet jacks at users' workstations, he said.

Wi-Fi itself isn't growing like a young technology anymore, but companies will keep investing in it. Enterprise wireless LAN revenue will grow by about 11 percent per year over the next four years. Most of that growth will come from access point sales, as companies buy fewer central Wi-Fi controllers and use alternatives like cloud-based management, DePuy said. In the search for more wireless capacity, 802.11ac Wave 2 shipments will overtake Wave 1 gear around 2018, he believes.

The biggest job for IT departments may be keeping up with the growing number of mobile devices employees want to use, including phones, tablets and wearables. By 2019, at any given time, the average workplace will have just as many devices connected to the LAN over Wi-Fi as on wired Ethernet, DePuy predicted.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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