WLAN spending to average 17.3 per cent

New broadband wireless technologies including WiMax will keep spending on enterprise wireless LAN equipment in double digits over the next five years, according to a recent study by Gartner.

But despite the release this year of access points based on the draft 802.11n standard, which promises data transfer rates up to four times faster than the current equipment, there won’t be a leap in sales of Wi-Fi-related gear by large organizations until that benchmark is officially ratified at least a year from now.

Report author Christian Canales said the market will grow at a compound rate of 17.3 per cent worldwide and hit US$3.1 billion in 2011, slightly down from the 20 per cent clip it grew at in 2005-2006.

The pace will be driven by sales in Asian markets, which are just getting into wireless.

For North America, a more mature market, spending grow at a slower rate — only 14.1 per cent annually over the same period, totaling US$1.5 billion by 2011.

Canales, based in Strasbourg, France, said one big driver will be the much anticipated 802.11n standard, a draft version of which was recently approved by the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry group.

A number of router and notebook card manufacturers such as Belkin and D-Link have started selling gear based on the draft standard, betting it either won’t change or can easily be upgraded by software when its finalized by the IEEE. Laptop makers are getting anxious as well. Some, including Dell and Apple, have been shipping notebooks able to handle the draft standard since the beginning of the year.

However, most of these products are aimed at home users or small businesses. Gartner advises enterprises not to invest in 802.11 until the standard is given final approval by the IEEE, which could take until early 2009, Canales said. But when it does, he added, “we believe this could lead some enterprises to start deploying wireless LAN for primary connection to the office.” It would appeal to those who work from home or are regularly on the road and only come into the office periodically, but need a broadband connection there.

Gartner also found that as network managers turn to so-called third generation architectures, sales of standalone access points will drop in favour of co-ordinated access points with limited intelligence.

Sales of standalone access points accounted for 60 per cent of the market last year, Canales said, but by 2011 that will drop to only 35 per cent.

Intelligent access points allow voice over WLAN, which Gartner believes will make headroads into verticals such as healthcare, manufacturing and education markets. But because the technology is complex, Gartner doesn’t think it will achieve widespread popularity.

The detailed North American spending forecast calls for organizations to buy US$957 million in WLAN gear this year, just over $1 billion next year, $1.258 billion in 2009 and $1.4 in 2010.