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Five Wi-Fi market predictions

Wi-Fi use continues to boom, and the technology has established itself as a crucial part of connectivity in the home, the workplace, and in public spaces. Wi-Fi standards continue to advance, with multiple projects in development to improve speeds and efficiency. In examining the Wi-Fi market, RCR Wireless looked at a number of Wi-Fi market predictions on what that will shape the ecosystem in 2016 and the coming years. These include:

Wi-Fi traffic will continue to grow. According to the most recent Cisco Mobile Visual Networking Index, mobile offload exceeded cellular traffic for the first time last year: Wi-Fi and femtocells transferred handled 51% of total mobile data traffic to fixed networks, and about 3.9 exabytes of mobile data traffic were offloaded each month of 2015. By 2020, Cisco predits, mobile offload will increase to 55% of overall mobile data traffic, which at that point will mean about 38.1 exabytes per month.

“Some have speculated that Wi-Fi offload will be less relevant after 4G networks are in place because of the faster speeds and more abundant bandwidth,” CIsco said in its VNI Mobile for 2016. “However, 4G networks have attracted high-usage devices such as advanced smartphones and tablets, and it appears that 4G plans are subject to data caps similar to 3G plans. For these reasons, Wi-Fi offload is higher on 4G networks than on lower-speed networks, now and in the future according to our projections.”

Carrier-grade Wi-Fi is expected to gain momentum. According to the Wireless Broadband Alliance’s most recent annual report by MaravedisRethink, carrier-grade hotspots will outnumber the traditional, “best effort” access points in the installed base by the end of next year. MaravediaRethink says that at end of 2017, 57% of APs will support more advanced capabilities, rising to 90% by 2020.

In the WBA’s annual ecosystem survey, two-thirds of respondents expressed more confidence about deploying carrier-grade Wi-Fi than in the previous year. In 2012, confidence in carrier-grade Wi-Fi deployment was 43% and in 2014 it was 56%, according to MaravedisRethink. In addition, among operator respondents to the survey, 61.5% already have a next-generation hotspot network or a plan to deploy one in the coming year, with another 29.5% planning for roll-out by 2018.

Wi-Fi performance –and services — are predicted to progress. 802.11ac’s second wave of features will start to emerge this year, with multi-user MIMO perhaps the most anticipated. Gartner cited 802.11ac as one of the top mobile trends for 2015 and 2016, with 11ac, 11ad (WiGig), 11aq and 11ah expected to “increase Wi-Fi performance, make Wi-Fi more relevant to applications such as telemetry, and enable Wi-Fi to provide new services. … Demands on the Wi-Fi infrastructure will increase as more Wi-Fi devices appear in organizations, as cellular offloading becomes more popular and as applications such as location sensing demand denser access-point placement.” The Wi-Fi Alliance is expected to start certification of second-wave 11ac products this year, which along with MU-MIMO, are also intended to”help meet carrier requirements by supporting faster and more scalable operator networks.”

802.11ac will continue to be a major market influence, with enterprise in the lead and consumer adoption trailing. The WLAN market, particularly in the enterprise, reflects somewhat of a pause in growth as 802.11ac gets adopted and businesses anticipate second-wave features. According to the latest numbers from IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly WLAN Tracker, 802.11ac accounts for 54.5% of dependent access point unit shipments and 71.3% of revenues. For full-year 2015, 11ac dependent access points made up 51% of shipments and 66.1% of dependent access point revenues. IDC also said that “increased demand on enterprise WLANs will continue to be a driving factor in this transition [to 11ac], especially as enterprise mobility use cases proliferate and IoT applications move into the mainstream.”

However, IDC noted, the overall WLAN enterprise market grew at only 3.7% in 2015, which is less than half of its growth rate in 2014.

“The current deceleration of the annual growth rate, as compared to previous years, is largely due to the confluence of two factors: a hold on new WLAN projects due to the uncertain short-term trajectory of the global economy and market anticipation of the full availability of Wave 2 802.11ac products,” IDC said. Meanwhile, the consumer WLAN market was down by nearly 5% in revenues for 2015 — and 11ac adoption is much slower on the consumer side, with 11ac access points accounting for less than 20% of fourth quarter shipments and 42.1% of revenues.

WiGig will give users a taste of 5G. Strategy Analytics expects to see rapid growth in 802.11ad, or WiGig, in 2016 due to an interoperability agreement between Intel and Qualcomm which ensures that the new devices with 11ad which start to ship this year will work together, thereby boosting rapid adoption and driving demand for infrastructure. The new standard supports multi-gigabit speeds over short distances using high-band spectrum (60 GHz), with very low latency, high capacity and increased battery efficiency because of the speeds at which it works — many of the characteristics expected of 5G technologies. Use cases include 4K video screen mirroring, wireless docking, small cell fronthaul and backhaul, and point-of-sale kiosks for downloading movies, according to Strategy Analytics. Christopher Taylor, director of RF and wireless components research at Strategy Analytics, wrote in a recent report on WiGig that the technology can enable a two-hour, HD movie to be uploaded or downloaded in about 12 seconds. Taylor wrote that WiGig technology will likely make up about 10% of Wi-Fi routers and infrastructure by 2020.

“802.11ad has the same or lower power consumption than 802.11ac, but allows downloading a file in one-fifth the time, significantly reducing the battery drain for data-intensive tasks,” said Eric Smith, senior analyst for tablet and touchscreen technologies at Strategy Analytics, in a statement. “This is one reason that we expect wide adoption in premium smartphones and tablets over the next five years in support of higher demand for data.”


Join RCR Wireless on April 28th for a special report and webinar on The Future of Wi-Fi. Register here


Image copyright: 72soul/123RF Stock Photo


Kelly Hill
Kelly Hill
Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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