It's well on its way to conquering mobile PCs. It already has made significant noise in the markets for mobile handsets and desktop and handheld computers. So, what's next for Wi-Fi?
Cable/ADSL modems represent a new frontier for the wildly popular wireless networking technology and will enjoy rapid growth during the coming years, iSuppli Corp. predicts. Also, shipments of cable/DSL modems with embedded Wi-Fi will rise to 54.3 million units in 2008, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 150% from 561,000 units in 2003.
With integrated Wi-Fi, cable and DSL modems can act as access points, i.e., the connection to the wired network that serves as the wireless node for clients. Typical small office or home office setups now hook a broadband modem into a Wi-Fi access point. A broadband modem with embedded Wi-Fi eliminates the need for the standalone access point.
As the Wi-Fi market evolves, so do the standards associated with it. To date, 802.11b has been the dominant standard, with most Wi-Fi chipsets supporting it. However, 802.11g has gained significant volume recently because it offers a higher data rate and is backward-compatible with existing 802.11b solutions.
For designers of Wi-Fi-enabled broadband modems, the best approach may be to use the new generation of combo chipsets, which support both the 802.11a and 802.11g standards. These devices are just entering the market, but they will grow to account for 60% of Wi-Fi chipset sales by 2008.
Designers should seek combo solutions that support 802.11a as well, which allow for greater flexibility. While 802.11a won't be used widely in the larger market, it will find a home in niche areas, particularly for multimedia transmission in the home. With broadband modems playing an increasing role in home gateways that support audio and video as well as data distribution in homes, 802.11a may emerge as an essential element in such products.