I rarely predict, but this year it's easy: With so much in process, it seems straightforward to see what this year in Wi-Fi looks like. You're welcome to say "Ha ha!" on Jan. 1, 2007, where I'm wrong.
802.11n won't be ratified this year. The standards battle will get resolved and a proposal will win the 75 percent supermajority required for moving forward on a draft. Ratification won't happen until 2007. Speed will continue to be pushed, however, and what's sometimes referred to as a new "100 Mbps" standard will start being called a "200 Mbps" standard.
802.11n-like devices will ship year. By third quarter, there will be several chipsets in shipping equipment that incorporate draft-compatible versions of 802.11n in slower flavors. Manufacturers will issue a variety of promises and hedges about future compatibility with the ratified 802.11n spec.
One-button or simple security will appear for home Wi-Fi. Several disparate efforts being brought together into one potential standard at The Wi-Fi Alliance will result in firmware and software updates for tens of millions of existing Wi-Fi devices to allow simple WPA Personal setup.
Techniques to break WPA TKIP keys more efficiently will appear. But the TKIP key will continue to remain worthwhile when used with good passphrases. AES will remain unassailable in 2006.
Municipal Wi-Fi will continue to gain momentum. Hundreds of new RFPs will appear next year and hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent. Battles among incumbents, competitive operators, cities, and non-profits will be waged. But networks will be built. And we'll finally see whether muni-scale networks can deliver on promises, probably within the first quarter of 2006.
Google will not build a national Wi-Fi network. Instead, they will roll out services for municipal-scale Wi-Fi network operators.
San Francisco will probably not have a network. I place the odds on this at about 50 percent that San Francisco's winning network bidder will not begin work in 2006 due to lawsuits or public process.
Transportation Wi-Fi will slowly increase. I don't see any massive rollouts for rail, plane, bus, or ferry Wi-Fi for commuters and business travelers in 2006. Rather, the same steady increase in options will continue especially with cellular 3G becoming more ubiquitous for travelers who need access everywhere--assuming that metal tubes that encase users in buses, ferries, trains, and planes don't prove to be effective barriers.
Wi-Fi hotspots will cross 200,000 worldwide. They're already at roughly 100,000 worldwide today. The trend isn't lessening at either the informal level (adding a Wi-Fi gateway in a coffeeshop) or the top-end (installing a multi-million dollar airport system).
Free and fee hotspots will continue to co-exist, but hotels will increasingly drop fees. This is just a continuation of a trend. We won't see chains of thousands of hotspots drop their fees, but higher-end hotels will move towards the amenity model and stop charging. They may also stop charging for local and long-distance calls.
All consumer electronic categories will have many Wi-Fi-equipped models. It may take until Christmas 2006, but every single category of consumer product will have not just a proof of concept, but many items with Wi-Fi built in. Digital cameras with Wi-Fi might finally reach the consumer level with reasonable features, such as Secure FTP (SFTP) support. The remaining wild card is whether devices will be able to stream wirelessly among any equipment or whether the MPAA will fight back those attempts and require encrypted streams among licensed devices.
Fixed WiMax won't take off, but it will grow. While a lot of fixed WiMax equipment will ship and the certification process will continue to advance, there will be no new large WiMax networks built in the U.S., nor any substantial urban or suburban residential service launched. Rather, the trend of point-to-multipoint fixed broadband wireless will continue to roll on as a business-grade T-1 and multiple T-1 replacement.
Mobile WiMax will still be a non-starter. For all the hype surrounding it, the standard was just finished in the IEEE, certification is far off, and silicon is way early. 2007 probably won't see much happening beyond trials and possibly some deployments outside the U.S., either.
Multiple 3G cell data networks will be in every major U.S. city. We're not far off already, but Cingular, Sprint, and Verizon will have hit all major metro markets with competitive, overlapping service, which should push prices down.
3G operators will offer better Wi-Fi plans and VoIP. Despite Verizon's anti-Wi-Fi advertisements that misstate EVDO's strengths and Wi-Fi's weakness, Verizon will join the Wi-Fi fray. Cingular, Sprint, and Verizon will all offer phones that work over Wi-Fi or cell networks, although seamless handoff is still probably not in the cards.
Loved it: I agree with most of your predictions but would make the following
Comments and or additions:
1. 802.11n a General response:
MIMO (which really is foundation for 802.11n)is already fully deployed using 3rd generation Airgo based products. New Netgear and Linksys MIMO based ROuters are able to deliver over 100Mbps. Interesting that Linksys(Cisco),member of Intel breakaway group,is still using Airgo chips in their SRX200 and SRX400 series devices. Netgear is promoting 240 Mbps throughput.
2. Fee and Free Hotspots and Hospitality markets:
If you consider the explosion of Muni Mesh Networks we will see a major change in how Hotel/Motel/Resorts deploy and charge for Internet Access. These Mesh Networks will be deployed in streets near these properties and will provide an alternative/competitive service.
Muni will have to address these tax payers if they offer free Internet on the Mesh.
3. WiMAX-Fixed and Mobile:
Fixed (PTMP) WiMAX systems will be used increasingly by Wireless Mesh network providers to deliver the big bandwidth links to the various Gateway Nodes as these Mesh Nets begin addressing congestion issues.
Mobile WiMAX will have a difficult time competing with new and existing WiFi based products and emerging 3/4G Cellnets and Qualcomm/Flarion. These Mobile systems (Broadcast based)will falter when their systems (using 2Ghz and above spectrum) are exposed to the Canopy in these Metro markets. In addition the vendors will have major issues with meeting their own interoperability standards, especially when they begin releasing Pre-802.16e products and attain a level of success.
One of my predictions:
Controversy will rear its ugly head as we begin to see/experience some of the limitations of the original Mesh Network deployed. The result will be that Major Cities will begin to require their designated Providers to focus more on multiple (3-4) Radio Mesh Node products that can handle congestion, improved reach with multiple backhaul radios and specialty antennas and address the need for a separate Public Safety network (4.9Ghz and or 7-800Mhz)
Jacomo for 2006
One comment. There is already a superior MESH product available on the market today which provides support for standard 2.4GHz band as well as the public saftey 4.9GHz domain, its called MotoMesh and its a product of Motorola's convergence with Mesh Networks. http://www.motorola.com
[Editor's note: In a recent conversation with the MotoMesh folks, I was told that metropolitan-scale residential broadband access over mesh was essentially impossible. The MotoMesh product is focused on mobility and ubiquity -- not the same market as metropolitan-scale final-mile broadband. My prediction is too ambiguous on that score.--gf]