Wi-Fi hits 5,000

Five thousand consumer and enterprise products have been certified bythe Wi-Fi Alliance’s testing program since March, 2000, the groupannounced this week to trumpet the popularity of the wirelesstechnology. More than 1,000 products alone have been given the greenlight in the 12 months ending in September. Almost everything fromaccess points to smartphones are taking advantage of Wi-Fi, and thenumber will grow now that the faster “n” standard is close to beingfinalized. Only one other wireless technology can challengeit.

WiMAX is faster, but some argue its bettersuited for long-range uses — building-to-building, for example, or, init’s mobile version, for people on the go who need metro WAN coverage.However, industry analyst Rob Enderle notes that’s where it canthreaten Wi-Fi. If you can get WiMAX reception in your home or office,he argues, why set up a Wi-Fi network? Watch Sprint’s WiMAX Xohm network, now being testedin Baltimore, he says.

Understandably, alliance CEO EdgarFigueroa doesn’t think WiMAX is in the same league, particularlybecause it has to be used in licenced frequencies while Wi-Fi operatesin unlicenced bands.

Unquestionably the increasing interest inWi-Fi from manufacturers is because the 802.11n draft standard ispresumed to be close to the final one that will be approved by theIEEE. But Figueroa noted an increasing number of cellular handsetmakers want to put it in their products as well — witness the iPhone,for example. Such dual mode phones will be able to use less expensiveWi-Fi networks where available if cellular coverage is spotty, savingthe customer money and extending range when using data applicationssuch as surfing the Web. When the alliance finalizes its Voice overWi-Fi Enterprise certification rules, at least 12 months fromnow, organizations will become interested in handsets that switch fromthe cellular to the wireless LAN as a money-saver.

But Figueroasaid Wi-Fi will also extend deeper into consumer products. “We havebeen testing a range of consumer electronics from gaming devices totelevisions. It just seems like Wi-Fi is getting a pretty strongfoothold in the connected home as the de facto networking technology.”

So this time next year, perhaps there will be 7,000 Wi-Fi certified products.

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