Wi-Fi's Best Quarter Ever

By Eric Griffith

February 11, 2004

In the final quarter of 2003, consumer WLAN products sold like hotcakes, but switches didn't add up to much. Meanwhile, Cisco took a beating (or did it?).

Here's a tale we're growing used to telling every few months: Last quarter (the 4th quarter of 2003, containing the all-important holiday season) was the best ever for the wireless LAN industry in terms of sales and units shipped.

According to Aaron Vance, senior analyst at Synergy Research Group of Scottsdale, Ariz., sales in the final quarter of 2003 totaled $751.9 million. Growth from year to year in revenue was 40 percent. Synergy released its worldwide market shares report this week.

The robust sales for the quarter were mainly because of aggressively priced SOHO products, says Vance. This is confirmed by Dell'Oro Group of Redwood City, Calif., which released a similar report. Synergy says SOHO sales alone were up 74 percent from the same time in 2002, to $517.6 million.

Linksys, a division of Cisco Systems , continues to be the top seller of WLAN products. In fact, Linksys' sales of SOHO/consumer WLAN products out-stripped its parent company's sales of enterprise WLAN equipment -- again. Dell'Oro pegs Cisco at number three in overall sales while Synergy says they're No. 4 (behind D-Link and Netgear). It's likely Cisco is not too worried, as they're still number one in the enterprise category (up 26 percent from the same time in 2002 to $751.9 million, which is still down from sales in the third quarter).

One thing Cisco doesn't have to worry about right away is the nascent WLAN switch market overtaking its lead. Synergy has started tracking sales of switch and gateway/controller equipment, which it is lumping together for now.

"I think that those products, be they switches, appliances, gateways, whatever you want to call them, they compete with each other," says Vance. "We will sub-segment them in the future if need be."

He says that the market for switch/appliances and "thin" access points was still less than 10 percent of the overall enterprise market. Plus, not all switch/controller vendors are reporting numbers -- Trapeze Networks, Airespace, Nortel , Foundry Networks and Vernier are all absent for now, some citing a desire to wait until they have a full year of sales under their belts. Even if they did, they'd have a hard time beating the current leader: Symbol Technologies has 41 percent of the switch market to itself. Other reporting numbers included Extreme , Aruba Networks , ReefEdge and Bluesocket . It's possible not all companies will report sales numbers to Synergy; Microsoft is one that doesn't share how many 802.11 products it sells.

Other highlights of the Synergy report show that in the SOHO category, Buffalo Technology has fallen to the No. 4 position worldwide with only 14.5 percent of the market, as D-Link (No. 2 with 16.1 percent) and Netgear (No. 3 with 15.1 percent) have begun more aggressive sales in Asia, a market Buffalo still dominates. Buffalo had a percentage loss to these same to companies in 2002. Perhaps the big winner for 2003 in sales was ZyXel, which increased its revenue by a whopping 680 percent from 2002; they now rank No. 5 with 4.5 percent of the market.

On the enterprise side, Symbol still resides comfortably in the No. 2 slot, but 3Com managed to sneak ahead of Proxim for the quarter. Vance things Proxim could have been hurt by customers holding off to hear about its WLAN switch plans. 3Com announced several new products that especially targeted the small-to-medium business market late in 2003.

In Voice over IP WLAN products (wireless phones), Cisco started to make some inroads in 2003 for the first time, but Spectralink still rules this area, outselling its nearest competitor (Symbol again) by roughly 800 percent.

Vance says Wi-Fi units shipped has grown every quarter since they started tracking it, and the revenue has only gone down quarter-to-quarter twice, but at less than 1 percent each time.



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