As the Wi-Fi market hits $2.5 billion a year, products for big business and the home are diverging. Almost the only thing they have in common is the position of Cisco as a major force in both markets: albeit under two different names.
The products designed as the backbone of enterprise Wi-Fi, wireless switches and gateways, still have a tiny share of the market: only two percent and one percent respectively, according to market figures by Infonetics Research. "The switch guys are creeping up," said analyst Richard Webb, "but there are delays while enterprises get their heads round WLAN switching and factor in how it will work with things like voice over IP".
This means the biggest part of the market (66 percent) is still access points, but two different kinds have emerged. Small-office and home (SOHO) products have moved to the faster 802.11g standard and are sprouting more features, such as broadband modems, Ethernet switches, firewalls and printer ports. Enterprise products are less likely to have bells and whistles. They cost four times as much as SOHO products, and justify the price with power-over-Ethernet, better radio characteristics and plenum rating - the approval to install the devices in the space above ceilings.
The company getting most revenue from Wi-Fi equipment is Cisco's subsidiary, Linksys, with 19 percent of the total market revenue. Netgear takes second place with 16 percent and D-Link comes third with 15 percent. All three are mostly SOHO players and each got more than $100 million in the last quarter.
However, if you look at access point revenue on its own, Cisco - whose own-brand products are all enterprise devices - jumps from fourth place to first, with 17 percent of the access point revenue, an indication of the higher price of enterprise devices.
"Standalone" access points (which means, more or less, enterprise access points - those that don't have broadband and other bells and whistles) make up about half of the revenue in access points. In this space, where price is less of an object, Cisco comes to the fore, with a massive 37 percent of that segment.
Back in the SOHO office, the wireless broadband gateway is Netgear's home turf. It has 27 percent of the revenue for those products, putting it ahead of D-Link on 20 percent and Linksys with 17 percent.
With port shipments going up by 51 percent, revenue grew 56 percent, which gives the lie to any idea that prices are tumbling. Instead, SOHO vendors have used additional features, and the speed boost of 802.11g, to keep their prices higher, while enterprise vendors have used their selling points to do likewise.
The fact that "access points" include two radically different kinds of device makes things tricky for researchers like Infonetics, especially when one company, Cisco, is big in both areas. "It would be difficult to report the Cisco and Linksys brands together," says Webb. The average selling price of their devices would be meaningless as it would cover Linksys' Soho products and Cisco's enterprise access points, he explained.