Unit shipments of Wi-Fi-enabled equipment grew 54% in 2010, followed by 46% in 2011, 36% in 2012 and are forecast to grow 32% in 2013 to 2.1 billion units, says IC Insights.
From 2012 to 2017, the average annual growth rate is forecast to be 25%. Cumulative Wi-Fi-enabled equipment unit shipments are forecast to reach the 10 billion mark in 2014, six years after achieving one billion cumulative units.
Equipment includes APs, NICs, routers, switches, and other Wi-Fi infrastructure products, as well as systems with built-in Wi-Fi functionality such as laptop PCs, tablet computers, smartphones, broadband gateways, video game consoles, 3G/4G small cell devices, etc.
While 802.11n has been the most successful version of Wi-Fi yet, expectations for the next-generation standard—802.11ac—have been set higher.
In order to provide reliable, uninterrupted service for a growing amount of bandwidth-intensive applications such as HD video, an exploding quantity of Wi-Fi devices are being used, and for new Wi-Fi applications such as wireless displays and indoor positioning, the new 802.11ac wireless standard is emerging from development labs.
Even though the 802.11ac standard is not expected to be finalised until early 2014, IC manufacturers started shipping “pre-ac” devices in mid-2012 and system products (routers, access points, laptops, smartphones, etc.) started appearing on the market soon after.
The Wi-Fi Alliance, which is the organisation that certifies whether or not products comply with the 802.11 standards, has split the 802.11ac specification into two certification phases called Wave 1 and Wave 2.
Unlike 802.11n, which is available in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, 802.11ac uses only the 5GHz band (the IEEE describes it as the <6GHz band).
The new standard, which is sometimes called “5G Wi-Fi” because it is the fifth generation of Wi-Fi, incorporates many techniques that greatly increase both the data rate and wireless range – the major features provided by 802.11ac as compared to prior 802.11 standards.
While most discussions pertaining to .11ac focus on its speed, another important improvement is that the technology can be as much as 5x more energy-efficient than .11n because it can transfer a given amount of data in much less time, thereby saving on battery life.