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Wi-Fi moving beyond the laptop

The Wi-Fi Alliance has seen a record surge in new devices certified under its banner in the last year, but what’s more interesting than just sheer volume is the types of devices seeking the Wi-Fi logo. What was a purely laptop and PC networking driven industry is now starting to trend toward handheld consumer devices like digital cameras, PDAs and especially mobile phones.

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The Alliance has certified more than 1000 new devices in the last 15 months, three times the certification rate of the previous 3 months. Of those 1000 devices, about 20% were non-traditional devices, meaning they weren’t the standard networking gear that connects laptops to Wi-Fi routers. Instead they ranged from media servers such as the set-top boxes made by Sony, Philips and Apple; portable gaming devices like Sony’s PlayStation Portable; a handful of digital cameras and portable music players and more than 100 different dual-mode handsets, said Karen Hanley, senior director of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

“The majority of shipments are still in computing equipment, but it’s shifting,” Hanley said. “A growing number of these devices are not what you’d traditionally associate with Wi-Fi.”

The number of certifications targeted at consumer media gadgets may likely be much higher than 20%. During the last 15 months, the Alliance certified 120 embedded Wi-Fi modules and 150 external modules, many of which could be embedded or connected to multimedia and handheld devices the Alliance’s certification arm will never see.

ABI Research expects Wi-Fi in non-traditional devices to surpass networking equipment in a few years. In 2012, 1.2 billion Wi-Fi chipsets will ship, ABI estimates, and of those, 500 million will be embedded in mobile handsets. The remaining 700 million will be roughly evenly split between other consumer electronics devices and traditional network computing equipment, the study found.

The phone segment in particular has received a lot of attention lately as several operators in the U.S. and Europe have launched commercially their unlicensed mobile access (UMA) networks, which depend on Wi-Fi and a home broadband connection to route calls back to the carrier’s voice core. But converged voice services aren’t the only driver for Wi-Fi in handsets. Only about 30 phones with a UMA client will be available by the end of the year around the world. Vendors are embedding Wi-Fi into many devices for data’s sake—the iPhone being the ultimate example.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is also starting to see traction on the 802.11n front, which it began certifying this summer under the IEEE’s Draft N guidelines. The Alliance said more than 100 Draft N devices have received certification since June.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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