Tablets, smartphones help boost WLAN sales

Enterprises are installing new networks and upgrading old to keep up with capacity demands

The increasing popularity of tablets and smartphones has helped sales of Wi-Fi equipment reach new highs, according to two recent reports.

Worldwide WLAN (wireless LAN) equipment revenue increased by 28 per cent to $769 million in the fourth quarter of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009, according to a report from Infonetics Research. On Wednesday, data from Dell'Oro Group confirmed that interest in wireless networks is growing rapidly. For the full year, sales jumped 25 per cent to surpass $5 billion, it said.

The increasing use in the workplace of devices that connect using Wi-Fi is primarily responsible for the sales growth, Loren Shalinsky, senior analyst of Wireless LAN research at Dell'Oro, said via e-mail.

Total Ethernet switch revenue, at $18.8 billion, is still far greater than WLAN equipment sales, at $2.7 billion last year, according to Infonetics. But wireless sales growth is outstripping revenue increases for wired networks. Ethernet switch revenue inched up one per cent in the last three months of 2010 compared to the prior quarter, while WLAN equipment sales increased 10 per cent for the same period, according to Infonetics.

The growing number of Wi-Fi devices has triggered an expansion of wireless networking in businesses, and also a need to upgrade existing networks, according to Shalinsky. Networks have to be able to connect the increasing number and variety of mobile devices, and be able to handle the associated growth in bandwidth demands.

In terms of revenue, Cisco Systems dominates the WLAN equipment, followed by Aruba Networks, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola, according to Infonetics.

The market has changed more in the last six months than in the preceding six years, and a lot of the credit for growth has to go to Apple's iPad, said Roger Hockaday, director of marketing in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Aruba.

Before the arrival of the iPad, having a wireless network was a convenience to allow guests in a business' offices to connect, but now it has become more of a necessity, according to Hockaday. Users are beginning to see the wireless network, not the wired Ethernet-based LAN, as the primary way of connecting, and that is putting pressure on the IT department, he said.

Also, now that users carry the iPad with them and connect in various places in a business -- not just in meeting rooms and from their desks -- companies have to rethink how they architect their networks, Hockaday added. More areas need to be covered.

On Friday, the iPad 2 will start shipping. The addition of cameras and FaceTime for video conferencing will increase networking capacity needs, Hockaday said.

Video chews up exponentially more bandwidth than other forms of communication, so any application that better enables video usage will use much more bandwidth, according to Dell'Oro's Shalinsky.

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