As the wireless home networking space evolves to one which involves the wireless connection of the PC cluster of devices (broadband modem, router/AP device, desktops, laptops, PDAs, web tablets) to the entertainment cluster of devices (audio and visual equipment such as TVs, DVD players, MP3 players, gaming devices and home theater devices such as high end displays and DVRs), Wi-fi technology will take the lead. High tech market research firm In-Stat/MDR projects that with 802.11b already being accepted into the home and 803.11a already beginning to penetrate early adopter homes, worldwide annual Wi-fi node shipments will be 33 million in 2006, up from approximately 6 million nodes expected to ship out in 2002.
"With Wi-fi AP gateway devices available for about $120, and with PC cards falling to the $50-70 range at retail and e-tail, as of 2H of 2002, end-users are readily accepting Wi-fi as an attractive method of wirelessly sharing broadband Internet access," says Gemma Paulo, a senior analyst with In-Stat/MDR. "The popularity of Wi-fi in the home has generated increased interest in extending this wireless home network to entertainment and home automation clusters, opening the door to Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN) technologies such as Ultra-wideband (UWB) and Zigbee."
In-Stat/MDR also found that:
- Low end networking hardware specialists such as Linksys, Buffalo, Netgear, D-Link, SMC, SOHOware and Actiontec have driven the success of Wi-fi in the home, as they have driven costs down, increased the variety of Wi-fi products on the market and have focused on making set-up and installation easier.
- Although the US is expected to remain the largest market for wireless LAN equipment in the home and SOHO space through 2006, Asia Pacific is quite notable for its growth. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore all present good areas for growth of Wi-fi.
- Although Wi-fi is expected to be embedded in consumer electronic devices going forward, its lack of multimedia support and bandwidth limitations have opened the door to UWB as a potential contender in the video distribution arena. Quality of Service (QoS) enhancements are expected to be added to the 802.11 standard by next year; however, UWB does offer much higher throughputs, albeit at much shorter ranges.
- Other promising wireless technologies for the home include Zigbee, designed for home automation of lighting and security, as well as Spike, a technology designed initially for video game controllers. Mesh peer-to-peer technology may also show up in the home of the future, possibly to extend the range of WLAN or WPAN technologies.