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Is it time for ubiquitous Wi-Fi?

At the start of the year, Jon Oltsik predicted 2008 would be the year of the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard. Events at the Interop convention lead him to believe his prediction was spot on.

At the beginning of the each year, I get out my crystal ball and prognosticate on what to expect in the networking and security industries. On the networking side, I predicted that 2008 would be a banner year for the latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11n. To geek out a bit, the current standard is 802.11g with maximum throughput of 54 megabits per second. In comparison, 802.11n bolsters performance all the way to 248 megabits per second.

So how accurate was my prediction? Judging by the Interop meetings I attended last week with Enterprise Strategy Group networking stud Bob Laliberte, spot on. Aruba Networks, Cisco, Meru, and Trapeze are shipping products and closing big deals. Large universities are installing thousands of new wireless access points providing network access to students and faculty across large geographic campuses. Hospitals are embracing wireless networking for user authentication, network access, and asset tracking. In fact, one of the most intriguing things about this market is that it seems to be driven by business applications rather than technology refresh. Manufacturing companies, insurance agencies, government bureaus, and defense agencies are all using wireless for brand new business processes. Pretty cool stuff.

Sure, there are a lot of players in this market, and there is bound to be consolidation. I can certainly see Foundry, Juniper, Hewlett-Packard, or Nortel acquiring someone, especially in the current financial climate in which companies are undervalued. In my view, this would be a worthwhile move for any of these industry leaders. Juniper would enjoy significant benefits from an acquisition as Wi-Fi could certainly complement its recent introduction of edge-to-core Ethernet switches.

Turntables and cassettes are completely foreign to my 10- and 13-year-old sons. Before my guys hit the workforce, wired Ethernet and the venerable RJ-45 Ethernet jack may slide into a similar nostalgic category.

Jon Oltsik is a senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group.