The enterprise Wi-Fi market is changing gear again. Vendors selling Wi-Fi networks have scented a big expansion opportunity driven by 802.11n. The fast Wi-Fi standard - still not complete, but very much a marketing reality - will finally make Wi-Fi a real competitor to Ethernet in connections to end-users' office desktops and laptops.

So the vendors all sat up and took more notice than usual of this quarter's market share pronouncements. After all, their position this quarter could determine the share they get of the big 802.11n Wi-Fi boom.

"If you were an IT manager thinking which company you might go with, you might be less inclined to invest in a company with a smaller share," said Elmer Choy, Wi-Fi market share analyst at Dell'Oro whose figures have sparked a flurry of releases. "It could influence buying decisions."

Who's number two?

As always, there's no doubt who's top. Cisco has the biggest revenue from enterprise Wi-Fi equipment by far. It's got about 60 percent of the enterprise Wi-Fi market, according to figures from Dell'Oro.

A lot of this - maybe even the majority - will still be from old-style standalone Aironet access points, not Wi-Fi switches. However, the giant is actually still gaining share. It only had around 50 percent in 2002, but bought into Wi-Fi switches in time to keep up with the trends. It's recent announcement of an 802.11n access point is clearly designed to show it's on top of the technology.

Despite Cisco's lead, Motorola surprised us with a breezy release claiming its Symbol subsidiary is actually number one in wireless switches. Now Symbol invented the wireless switch, but it's definitely not the leading Wi-Fi player overall. Motorola's claim only applies to switches, not APs, and it turns out to refer to market share by unit. It sold 33 percent of the Wi-Fi switches in the last quarter (and also, by coincidence, sold its 100,000th switch).

A lot of those switches will be the WS2000 switch, a nice branch product which can power four access points (and manage two more with PoE injectors). "Motorola is still shipping to their strength in the retail vertical market, usually with a handful of APs per switch," said Choy. "That's very much their market."

The WS2000 only costs $1000 and goes a long way to explaining how Motorola is shipping so many switches, and still lying third in revenue.

Aruba is chuffed

We're giving a bit more credence to Aruba's claim that it overtook Symbol in market share by revenue, and is number two in the Wi-Fi market. In perspective, Choy reckons it has about ten percent of the market to Symbol's eight percent. To get this figure, Aruba added in the OEM revenue it gets from products sold through Alcatel (and some other ones sold under badge deals with the likes of Netgear).

The figures are backed up by Infonetics Research: "Aruba is chuffed at being second," said Infonetics' wireless analyst Richard Webb. "We've had them neck and neck for a year now."

It's especially good news for Aruba to overtake a Motorola-owned Symbol, said Webb: "I thought Symbol sales would drive forward, but they still don't have great reach into enterprise markets."

Aruba's obviously also keen to get one over on Motorola, in the light of Motorola's allegation that Aruba infringed its patents.

Was Motorola's OEM business also included in Dell'Oro's figures? Apparently it was, even though Motorola/Symbol has always been strangely reticent about this, but it has deals with IBM and HP.

More contenders

Further down the list there's another surprise vendor shouting. Meru, a vendor with a "blanket" Wi-Fi architecture claims to be in fourth place. That's not something a vendor would normally get excited about, but if it really is there, an upstart with a new architecture appears to have barged past an established vendor most analysts usually place third in the enterprise Wi-Fi market - Trapeze.

"It's the first time Meru has reported figures," says Choy. "It's just ahead of a pack of smaller players." That pack includes 3Com, Alcatel Lucent, Enterasys, Extreme, HP Procurve, Proxim, Bluesocket and others. The figures are too uncertain to quote for these ones.

Webb also praises Meru, as an "innovative voice in the WLAN market." It's clearly had a good time - it's claiming to have doubled its revenue between the first and second quarter of 2006, but I'm dubious that it's really ahead of Trapeze.

That has to be a guess, because Trapeze has never quoted figures to analysts (and has been promising to do so "soon" for about three years). But Trapeze has been established for more than five years, and gets about half its revenue from OEM deals with the likes of Nortel, 3Com and Enterasys, each of which apparently does too little Wi-Fi business to stand out from the pack.

"Anecdotally, Trapeze is doing very well," concedes Choy. Webb agrees, but he's sure Trapeze has been left behind by an Aruba buoyed up by its recent stock market flotation.

Trapeze for sale?

Just how well Trapeze is doing could be important, if there's any truth in the rumours that Trapeze is up for sale. The rumour comes from wireless site Unstrung, which suspects Trapeze's partners 3Com and Nortel (despite the Canadian giant signalling its intent to end its OEM agreement with Trapeze), as well as Juniper, which has invested in Trapeze before.

What about the others?

There are still other players. One worth remembering is Colubris. It doesn't rate much excitement in Dell'Oro's figures, but Choy concedes it may be a bit under-reported, as some of its products go to service providers, and might not show up in an enterprise share study. "It's definitely growing," he said.

And there are still new players yet to register. Aerohive, a company which takes the radical step of doing away with the central controller in favour of a self-organising set of co-operative nodes, received funding in the summer and is expanding its sales effort - we expect to hear more from them as well.

With an 802.11n-driven boom in the offing, it's not going to be quiet in the WLAN world.