Analyst issues caveat emptor on next-generation Wi-Fi

May 10, 2006 - ABI Research warns there will be wide variations among chipsets based on 802.11n draft specifications.

The 802.11n Wi-Fi standard holds the promise of enabling a new generation of networking applications, including multimedia distribution within the home and very high-speed data connectivity. With a new draft 11n approved in March, chipset vendors and equipment makers are gearing up for a new wave of market growth. However, according to a new study from ABI Research (www.abiresearch.com), the road ahead is full of pitfalls, and early adopters should heed the warning to "let the buyer beware" until final ratification of the standard in 2007.

"The 802.11n Draft Specification was the starting gun for 802.11 chipset vendors," says Alan Varghese, ABI Research's principal analyst for wireless semiconductors. He adds that the leading chipset companies in the 802.11 standards such as Broadcom, Atheros, Intel, Marvell, Text Instruments, and Conexant will now join incumbent Airgo Networks in a race to provide solutions for this incipient market. Shipments of current-generation 802.11g integrated circuits (ICs) have taken the world by storm, hitting 150 million units this year, and manufacturers expect a much larger available market for 802.11n given the broader set of consumer electronics and networking applications that will be enabled by average speeds of 150 Mbits/sec and peak speeds of 600 Mbits/sec.

But although the draft has had consensus, the specification still leaves many options open to interpretation and implementation, ABI notes.

Will there be 802.11n draft chipsets and devices available in the market this year? According to Varghese, the answer is "yes, but …" He cautions: "There will be wide variability between them, and true interoperability between vendors is still wishful thinking. So consumers and business users should be wary about their purchases, at least until final ratification of the standard, which is expected sometime in 2007."

Some chipset vendors will focus on the high-performance segments of video and multimedia distribution, while others will offer solutions that are "good enough" in performance but at lower price points for segments such as data networking.

ABI's study "Next-Generation Wi-Fi: 802.11n—Chipsets, Technologies, and Market Drivers" discusses these issues in detail, examining vendor solutions, technology roadmaps, and end-market demand for 802.11's next evolution in consumer and business markets.

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