The yearly round-up: You'll see long reviews of 2003 elsewhere, so I'll be succinct. What happened this year?
* 802.11g was approved and caught on like wildfire. Despite concerns of pre-ratification release of wonky G devices, it sold hundreds of thousands of units, and firmly put 802.11a into the back seat -- into the trunk, really. Late in 2003, Broadcom's claims (verified in part by Tim Higgins) that Atheros's Super G mode interferes with Broadcom's 802.11g chipsets coupled with the Wi-Fi Alliance's admission that 25 percent of Wi-Fi devices fail their certification test the first time around could make compatibility and interoperability the number one issue in 2004.
* WPA appears. Wi-Fi Protected Access solves security problems, but manufacturers and the Wi-Fi Alliance are still lagging about six months after it started to appear in certified devices in making firmware upgrades available for older equipment and making the whole WPA package appealing, compatible, and simple across different devices -- even those by the same manufacturer. Apple's AirPort Extreme update and Linksys's WRT54G update are good examples: you can only use new, G devices locked in WPA mode with these units, and neither interface has the same options or parameters as the other.
* 5 GHz expands. With 255 MHz more bandwidth and international harmonization, the 5 GHz band is poised to take off as WiMax (a formalization of part of 802.16a) becomes the way to offer point-to-point broadband and backhaul.
* Bridging becomes cheap. More and more devices offer inexpensive WDS-based bridging for expanding consumer and corporate networks.
* WLAN switches proliferate. Too many makers, too many overlapping features, too many big companies that aren't in the space yet. Who will be left standing even with the piles of venture capital that flooded this space? Possibly, whoever Cisco buys in 2004.
* Hotspot market continues to fail to mature. Despite all the predictions and all the build-out plans, the hotspot market continues to struggle to reach the kind of ubiquity that would justify travelers spending $20 to $40 per month for unlimited access. T-Mobile's end-of-the-year partnership with iPass probably marks the real turning point for business traveler access because of iPass's blue-chip portfolio of companies.
* Cell data starts to break 100 Kbps. 3G may not be widespread, but tests in Washington DC and San Diego became deployments, offering over 200 Kbps in real-world tests. Meanwhile, AT&T Wireless becomes the first nationwide EDGE deployer, which can offer over 100 Kbps in the best circumstances, but almost always well outpaces GPRS, 1xRTT, and dial-up "56K" modems.
What will 2004 bring? More security, higher cell data rates, and the final blossoming of hotspots in public spaces.