The world is going wireless. According to a new report from In-Stat/MDR, a Scottsdale, Arizona research firm, 6.8 million 802.11b wireless devices were sold for home use in 2002, a 160 percent increase over the previous year. Business shipments, the firm says, rose to 11.6 million units, a 65 percent increase. "Volumes are much higher than we expected," says the reports author, Gemma Paulo, a senior analyst who focuses on the enterprise and residential networking markets.
Much of this market growth is due to a drop in prices. The report estimates that revenue from 802.11b devices increased by only 23 percent over the past year, from $1.8 billion in 2001 to $2.2 billion in 2002. In previous years, when 802.11b hardware was far more expensive, it was used primarily by so-called vertical businesses—operations that have a very specific need for wireless networks. But although such businesses still account for the bulk of the market, In-Stat says that WiFi is becoming increasingly popular not only with home owners but with ordinary businesses as well, resulting in a steady increase in retail and online sales over the past year.
And as the prevalence of wireless networks in businesses and homes grows, more and more laptops are shipping with embedded 802.11b adapters. According to In-Stat, 14 percent of laptops sold in 2002 included a WiFi adapter, up from 2 percent in 2001.
Paulos study also shows that the newer, faster WiFi technologies, 802.11a and 802.11g, have been slowly laying down roots. Many homes owners have already installed 802.11a networks, she says, and many businesses have installed dual-mode access points that can run 802.11a today and 802.11g in the future. "Business want to be able to migrate easily to the new technologies," says Paulo.