802.11ac WiFi Products Gaining Market Share as Older Devices Decline

Newer 802.11ac WiFi device shipments are expected to hit 71 million units by the end of 2015 as the latest devices are deployed instead of older 802.11n units, according to a report.

802.11ac, WiFi, routers, ABI Research

The latest 802.11ac WiFi-compliant devices, from routers to access points and everything in between, are gaining market share worldwide, compared with their older, slower counterparts, the 802.11n-equipped devices that formerly powered the last generation of WiFi products.

A new report from ABI Research shows that by the end of 2015, some 71 million consumer WiFi devices based on the newer 802.11ac standards will ship worldwide, while the overall consumer WiFi device market increased by 5 percent in 2014, surpassing 166.1 million unit shipments.

"Shipments of devices which support the 802.11ac standard grew significantly in 2014, representing more than 11 percent of total access point shipments," Jake Saunders, practice director at ABI Research, said in a statement.

At the same time, as 802.11ac device shipments have begun to rise, the market share of devices designed for older-generation WiFi standards is declining, ABI analyst Khin Sandi Lynn said in a statement. "In 2014, total shipments of consumer WiFi devices with the 802.11n standard declined 3 percent from 2013," wrote Lynn. "New-generation 802.11ac products are expected to gain market share in the years to come. ABI Research expects that nearly 71 million 802.11ac access points will be shipped in 2015."

Even as the 802.11ac devices and standards are in play, the next generation of an even faster WiFi system is also approaching. That next standard will likely be 802.11ad, which can provide up to 7G bps, according to ABI Research. WiFi chipset manufacturer, Qualcomm, has already demonstrated its newer WiFi products, which support tri-band 802.11ad (60GHz), and 802.11ac (5GHz and 2.4GHz), reports ABI. Those products are likely to begin shipping in the second half of 2015.

In the enterprise WiFi market, some 10.5 million access points were shipped in 2014, which is an increase of 11 percent from 2013, according to ABI. That growth is expected to continue as the enterprise-class WiFi access point market is forecast to surpass 19.4 million unit shipments in 2020, according to the report. Consumer WiFi device shipments are expected to reach 219 million in 2020 with a faster growth in residential gateway shipments, compared with access points and WiFi routers, the research continues. The consumer WiFi equipment market is expected to bring in about $13.5 billion in 2020.

The IEEE ratified the 802.11ac WiFi standard at the end of 2013 to replace the preceding 802.11n and earlier standards, bringing faster speeds and greater bandwidth for consumers and business users. Following the ratification, the WiFi Alliance launched a WiFi Certified ac program for networking devices, including routers and adapters, as well as smartphones, notebooks, tablets and other computing devices so that they all would work together, according to an earlier eWEEK report.

Market transitions such as cloud computing, high-bandwidth applications like video, IT mobility and the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, continue to fuel demand for greater speed and bandwidth from wireless networks. In addition, broadband carriers continue to look to offload traffic onto WiFi networks where possible to reduce the crushing demand on their networks.

The 802.11ac standard—also called 5G WiFi—brings significant improvements over the older 802.11n standard, including up to three times the speed. It also allows for greater network capacity, which means more devices can be connected to the network without impinging too much on performance.

In addition, 802.11ac works in two bands—the 2.4GHz band, where WiFi previously was limited to, and in the 5GHz band, where users can get a higher data rate. The idea is that devices will use the less crowded 5GHz band for high-performance applications, while the 2.4GHz band is for more basic needs.