While Wi-Fi hotspots have moved from the status of "hype" to the first stages of established deployment in recent months, Wi-Fi as an access technology has never been hotter, according to market research firm ABI Research. In addition, firms making the chipsets are engaged in a battle for market share, ABI reports.
Intel, which almost single-handedly boosted awareness of Wi-Fi with its U.S. $300 million Centrino campaign last year, represented less than 5 percent of the market for Wi-Fi chipset shipments in 2003, according to the research firm. This is set to change, and ABI expects Intel's market share to grow to more than 30 percent by 2005.
However, ABI says Intel's market share growth will be driven almost entirely by mini-PCI cards, the embedded adapters that make laptops Wi-Fi-enabled. Another key segment to the market -- SOHO and enterprise routers and adapters -- remains open territory. ABI believes that this segment will remain highly competitive, though Broadcom and Conexant are among the best positioned to emerge as market leader.
According to ABI, both Broadcom and Conexant have moved into the Wi-Fi chipset space from a proven track record in communications ICs such as those for DSL and cable modems. Wi-Fi ICs are a natural progression of their technology and proven capabilities as these companies look to reduce costs by integrating IC components. Both companies also have a strong offering in 802.11g and a/g solutions which makes them a contender for the mini-PCI business.
However, the research firm reports that Intel's strength of brand in this area will make it much more difficult for the competition to be as successful here as they are in the adapter / router segment. Later this year when Intel launches its own 802.11a/g chipset, ABI believes this will likely consolidate Intel's monopoly on the mini-PCI segment.
Broadcom, which enjoys strong branding for its chipsets and was the first to market with a single-chip Wi-Fi solution, maintains a lot of upside potential, reports ABI. As a result, ABI believes the game for the remaining players in the Wi-Fi IC business is going to be one of branding. The research firms says Intel has proven its abilities to win consumer mindshare.
As future Wi-Fi opportunities continue to be driven by consumer-based volume markets, ABI says Intel's competitors must launch strong brand campaigns of their own or make sure they strategically position themselves as the key supplier to an OEM who can.
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