Study: Home users warm up to wireless LAN

Sales of wireless LANs to home users will soar this year, with products using the IEEE 802.11x technology leading the way, according to a report by research company Cahners In-Stat/MDR, an In-Stat analyst said Monday.

Worldwide, consumers will buy 7.3 million wireless LAN nodes -- which include client and network hub devices -- in 2002, up from about 4 million last year, said Gemma Paulo, an analyst at In-Stat.

The 802.11x technology will continue to gain ground against rival HomeRF, Paulo said. While 45 percent of nodes sold in 2000 used HomeRF, that percentage dropped to 30 percent in 2001, with 70 percent of all nodes being 802.11x products. Paulo did not forecast the market breakdown for 2002 but said 802.11x will continue to gain ground.

"It'll be over 90 percent (802.11x) in 2002," Paulo said.

Home users are beginning to embrace 11M bps (bits per second) 802.11b wireless LANs as prices come down and products become available from a wide variety of vendors, including low-price makers whose products are stocked on retail shelves, Paulo said. Access points, the hubs through which clients on a wireless LAN communicate, are generally selling for between US$150 and $200, and client hardware is now available for less than $100. The growing adoption of 802.11x in enterprises is helping to expand the availability of products that use that technology, she said.

"Everybody who's anybody makes stuff for the 802.11 market. There are a lot of products and prices are coming down fast," Paulo said.

Last year, HomeRF achieved a boost from about 1.6M bps to 10M bps with the introduction of HomeRF 2.0. However, Compaq Computer Corp. and Intel Corp. have declined to use the new, faster technology, dealing a blow to adoption of HomeRF, Paulo said.

Consumers are using wireless LANs primarily to link multiple PCs, she said. Sharing a broadband Internet link is a popular use of the networks.

A few vendors last year began selling wireless LANs using the new 802.11a standard, which offers as much as 54M bps and is seen as a possible interconnect for home entertainment appliances. However, most home users will stick with the less expensive 802.11b in the near future, Paulo said.

North America still accounts for the lion's share of home wireless LANs, but Asia-Pacific markets -- particularly Japan, Taiwan and Australia, as well as South Korea, a thriving broadband Internet market, also are seeing strong demand.

Wireless LANs next year will gain on Ethernet as the most popular home network technology, In-Stat predicted in an earlier report. In 2001, consumers installed nearly twice as many Ethernet nodes as wireless nodes in their homes, said In-Stat analyst Mike Wolfe. In 2002, they will hook up 10.9 million Ethernet nodes and 7.3 million wireless out of a total of 14.4 million home LAN nodes shipped. Phone-line networks and power-line networks will make up the remainder, Wolf said.

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