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Analysts have been predicting consolidation in the Wi-Fi market but not much has happened yet: A few companies, however, have reached their limit. Bermai, a Wi-Fi chip maker, recently went under. Apparently there are some hints that Legra, a WLAN switch developer, may be on the way out. Ever since AirFlow switched its strategy to license its technology rather than sell products, observers have wondered if the company would stay in business for long. The upside is that some companies continue to get stronger.
They're late to the game, but they're ready to party: It's a funny thing. When SBC Communications first announced their FreedomLink plans last year with plans build 6,000 hotspots over a couple of years, it seemed like yet another announcement of large numbers with no track record. Cometa was still on its 20,000 hotspots prediction and had only a handful. McDonald's hadn't decided its partner and was in limited trials. Wayport seemed stuck on hotels. And T-Mobile stayed focused--as it still does--on a few ubiquitous chains.
In the space of a few months, SBC has moved from last man in, to practically first mover. Let's review:
SBC has not so quietly assembled what will be the largest roaming network with a flat-rate price in about two to three months from now and then grow much larger than any other network in the U.S. They've set a good price. They have bundling deals yet to come. And they cover plenty of business territory with hotels, airports, and other venues.
Could it be that SBC drives other telcos into reselling and building Wi-Fi on a scale that's only been hyped before now? Or will SBC's drive be a strategy they follow alone, leaving T-Mobile with its private network (resold only to iPass), and aggregators like Boingo selling all the pieces outside of Wayport's retail Wi-Fi World locations and SBC's FreedomLink exclusive venues?
The test of whether a build out will happen is whether the money and commitment is there. Cometa had the commitment, not the money. Ditto, MobileStar. T-Mobile had both and has built out everything they promised when they formally launched Starbucks networks. We'll see if SBC follows suit, but there's no denying that they throw the cash around when it has this many positive strategic implications for them to retain customers, receive incremental revenue from existing customers, and provide a long-term data and voice game plan for them.
This seems to be an attempt at a big picture look at the Wi-Fi market: Big Picture it is, coming to novel conclusions such as that some enterprises will choose big names like Cisco because Cisco is well-known. Also, of all the big names in the Wi-Fi industry, the author chooses to only quote an exec from HP, which apparently is in the Wi-Fi business but certainly isn't considered a leader, and a Sony Ericsson exec.
I think this is meant to be sort of a snapshot of important companies in the Wi-Fi space: But the article lists just six, each in a different segment of the market. It also mentions that many of the companies focusing on security have "either been gobbled up or are struggling." It's true that many companies across the Wi-Fi market are struggling but I wouldn't say many have been gobbled up. There hasn't been any kind of frenetic acquisition activity going on.
The story also includes a confusing analysis of Microsoft's position in the industry, noting that its entry into the Wi-Fi market "rattled" the industry. Really? The bit mentions an announcement from Microsoft in October about an update to Windows XP that aims to make it easier for laptop users to log onto public hot spots and support for 802.1X security. It's not available yet so it's difficult to be "rattled" by the upgrade. Also, there's a good chance that Microsoft may offer stripped-down support for easier sign-in but that doesn't preclude other software makers from developing better, more targeted products.
It's unclear if the Red Herring article thinks the industry was "rattled" when Microsoft announced the software upgrade or when Microsoft introduced access points. The article goes on to say that "it is just a matter of time before the company strong-arms its way into a dominant position." Microsoft isn't in the hardware business and isn't known as a networking giant so I'm doubtful it will suddenly dominate the Wi-Fi gear market.
I'm always apprehensive when Microsoft enters a market but in this case I think there's room for Microsoft to be a big player as the supplier of stripped down software support for public hot spot access. But that's just one small component of Wi-Fi so there's plenty of room for a thriving industry of other companies.
Extreme just began shipping its combined wireless and wired switches: I talked to the company for a story I did a while back and was impressed. I hate to say it, but I suspect that the presence of already established switch makers like Extreme in the WLAN switch market is bad news for the WLAN switch startups.
Extreme's CEO, Gordon Stitt, is pretty critical of Cisco's approach to WLANs. Even though he's talking about his competitor, he's right when he says that Cisco is in a tough spot because it is trying to offer management features to an installed base of customers that already have Cisco APs, which were designed to operate independently. Cisco is now trying to add on central management functions, but I'm not sure that's possible as an afterthought.
Intel's Sean Maloney, general manager of Intel’s Communications Group, offered a glimpse at what Intel sees for the future of wireless: While all of Intel's Wi-Fi chips so far have gone into computers, Maloney thinks in the future they will live in a wide array of electronics devices in the home.
He admits that Intel was late to wireless and comments that the company has caught up. I certainly wouldn't agree with that given Intel doesn't even have an 802.11g chip out yet.
Maloney offers the perfect example of how Intel may be torn about using the hype machine. He notes that Wi-Fi has been overhyped, which is certainly due in part to Intel's Centrino campaign, but says that on the other hand, broadband wireless is going to change everything. Maybe Intel has really high hopes for Wi-Fi but is partly afraid that the market may not lead to a genuine boom.
Trapeze let go 30 workers and has 80 left: A spokesperson said the company hasn't felt the growth it expected so it has trimmed staff.
Since WLAN switch developers started coming out of the woodwork, it was clear that the market couldn't support all of them: Trapeze and Vivato have both laid off workers recently, leaving some to wonder if they are struggling.
Trapeze made a name for itself by spending liberally on marketing and what some in the industry have described as a massive booth for trade shows. A company spokesperson in this article says that the cut backs happened on schedule. Trapeze cut 30 percent of its staff and Vivato laid off 25 percent.
I would be surprised if Trapeze was one to go under straight away as it seems to have a robust product. But as we all know, the best product doesn't always win. This will be an interesting space to watch as acquisitions and failures are bound to start happening soon.
Network World has a nice Q & A with Netgear's chairman and CEO, on the heels of the August IPO: The story is a bit all over the place but has a couple of useful tidbits. Netgear's chairman and CEO says the company has an advantage over Linksys because Netgear is independent—it can move faster and won't suck resources from a parent company.
But it may not be moving fast enough, seeing as Netgear plans to introduce a WLAN switch early next year, a bit behind the pack. The CEO also says that 60 percent to 70 percent of Netgear's product line will have wireless built-in within 18 months.
The Wall Street Journal looks at Intel's place in the Wi-Fi market: This piece takes a fair look at how far behind Intel is in everything it's doing in the wireless world. That's evident today with announcements from Atheros and Broadcom about new 802.11g chipsets that offer better range and battery life then Intel’s Centrino products. Intel doesn’t have any 802.11g out yet and reports last week indicated that they wouldn't be available until 2004.
The article also says Intel has been working on software-defined radio technology. Companies across the communications industry have been talking about SDR for years.
It will be interesting to watch Intel's conference this week as it may produce some notable thoughts on where the giant will move in the future. Even if Intel is behind the startups, its heavy advertising and interest in Wi-Fi certainly offers a boost to the industry.