802.11ac taking bites out of bandwidth, market

The enterprise market's transition to multi-gigabit wireless networking will drive up demand for better cabling and eventually drive overall wireless-LAN spending.

From the August, 2014 Issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine

The enterprise market's transition to multi-gigabit wireless networking will drive up demand for better cabling and eventually drive overall wireless-LAN spending.

The higher transmission rates promised, and now delivered, by wireless equipment based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (www.ieee.org) IEEE 802.11ac set of specifications has brought to light the need for a highly capable enterprise cabling system providing layer-one support for such transmission. We previously have documented the practical impact of 802.11ac's MU-MIMO (multiple-user, multiple-input/multiple-output) characteristics as well as other performance enhancers, making the case that deploying a Category 6A or Om3 cabling infrastructure to support 802.11ac is prudent.

While 802.11ac equipment is poised to take that proverbial "bite" out of a network's bandwidth, reports from several research and analyst firms examining the enterprise networking market indicate that users' current and, more significant, anticipated future transition from 802.11n to 802.11ac will take their own bites out of the total market for wireless local area network (LAN) equipment. Three reports issued within the past quarter tell similar stories.

A bright spot

In late May IDC (www.idc.com) released its Quarterly WLAN Tracker for the first three months of 2014. "The enterprise segment continued to grow at a healthy rate and increased 10.3 percent over the same period last year," the company said. "While the pace of the enterprise WLAN market growth has been steadily decreasing over the last several quarters, the market continues to be one of the fastest-growing networking market segments."

IDC's vice president for network infrastructure, Rohit Mehra, explained, "WLAN infrastructure continues to be a bright spot in the networking market, with mobility and cloud driving investments and refresh cycles across geographies and verticals. While a stabilizing growth rate suggests the market maturing, new vertical-specific use cases and the ramping adoption of the emerging 802.11ac standard will fuel sustained growth in the enterprise WLAN market for the foreseeable future."

IDC combines enterprise and consumer spending into its quarterly report; it tracked the Q1 consumer growth at 3.8 percent, bringing the combined growth rate to 7 percent.

Shifting trends

Dell'Oro Group (www.delloro.com) also reported on its first-quarter findings, in early June, with similar numbers-6 percent year-over-year growth for enterprise and consumer spending combined. Chris DePuy, vice president of wireless LAN research with the company, commented, "We expect that as the 802.11n, 3G offload and smartphone- and tablet-driven cycles that drove growth in previous years fade, new drivers will emerge such as 802.11ac, the Internet of Things, and new service-provider initiatives.

"While 802.11ac-based devices are experiencing significant growth, these represent too small a percent of total units to drive the industry faster than in prior quarters," he continued. "In addition, the expectation that so-called 'Wave 2' 802.11ac radio systems will ship next year with added features and throughput versus systems currently shipping, is likely influencing purchasing trends on campus Ethernet switch networks as well as on wireless."

In an article we published in January 2014, CommScope's (www.commscope.com) Masood Shariff noted, "Operating at capacity, 802.11ac equipment is capable of far exceeding the performance provided by 1000Base-T uplinks. Even 802.11ac-certified devices operating at the lower end of the speed spectrum may come outfitted with two 1000Base-T uplink ports and link aggregation support." He then looked forward in time to the "Wave 2" technology that Dell'Oro's DePuy mentioned. Shariff said, "Future offerings can be expected to use 10GBase-T, or possible dual or even quad 1000Base-T uplinks, to support the multi-gigabit backhaul." (See "Laying the groundwork for high-performance wireless access," January 2014.)

Ramping up quickly

Infonetics Research (www.infonetics.com) takes a quarterly look at consumption of access points, wireless LAN controllers, and WiFi phones for enterprises. In early June it issued its findings for the year's first quarter. Directing analyst Matthias Machowinski said, "While WLAN growth slowed last quarter, pricing across all access point types rose for the first time in three quarters. This is an emerging positive sign that 802.11ac is slowly starting to change the trajectory of the market and will drive renewed growth over the coming quarters."

Among the data points that Infonetics made public from its first-quarter findings was that approximately the same number of 802.11ac access points shipped in the first quarter of 2014 as shipped throughout 2013. That number is slightly under 300,000. The company said that looking out several years, 802.11ac access points are "expected to dominate the global WLAN market by 2018."

The market Infonetics examined was up 3.3 percent year-over-year for Q1, after having grown 11 percent for the full year 2013. The company said it "expects WLAN growth to accelerate in the coming quarters as infrastructure investments continue to favor WLAN to support more wireless devices, BYOD, and mobility, and as companies upgrade their networks to the latest technology."

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.

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