As I look to the future of the Wireless LAN (WLAN) market there are a few key trends that I’ll be watching for 2020:
- Wi-Fi 6 is racing ahead. We expect Wi-Fi 6 will rise significantly, particularly as vendors bring to market lower-priced 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 access points. Concurrently, we’ll pay close attention to Wi-Fi 6 access points driving the Campus adoption of NBASE-T (Ethernet 2.5 Gbps and 5.0 Gbps).
- Macroeconomic uncertainties impact near-term corporate spending. We expect 2020 to be a soft market for wireless LAN as short-term economic deterioration unfolds in many regions in the world. For example, in Europe Brexit is disrupting the general flow of business. Economists from the leading world banks have pulled down their GDP growth forecasts from 1.5% to 1.1% in 2020—a significant reduction. The good news is they predict a rebound in 2021. In the USA, according to the senior executives of wireless LAN manufacturers, large companies are delaying purchases as trade tensions create economic uncertainty. Economists forecast USA GDP growth to slow in 2020 to 1.8%, down from 2.3%.
- More Wi-Fi 6 deployment in China. Although government incentives for 5G in large public venues has dampened wireless LAN sales in China, we learned that in 2020 Wi-Fi 6 will be big, particularly with the manufacturing vertical industry. We’ll be watching for innovation and use cases of Wi-Fi 6 deployments within the manufacturing sector.
- 6 GHz turbo charging Wi-Fi 6. The availability of new unlicensed 6 GHz spectrum will increase the performance of Wi-Fi significantly. This will be the first time in over 20 years that additional mid-band spectrum has been made available to Wi-Fi, yet the use of Wi-Fi technology has increased on a massive scale. This is rocking the Wi-Fi market. The additional capacity would enable faster data throughput and lower latency—essentially turbo-charging Wi-Fi 6 and fortifying its competitiveness with cellular in the enterprise.
The next hurdle to making 6 GHz available is managing the spectrum. The incumbents currently using the spectrum are asking that all Wi-Fi devices connect to an Automated Frequency Control System, whereas the Wi-Fi manufacturers are asking for all indoor and very low power devices not be required to connect. We will be watching with keen interest what rules the FCC structures for managing the 6 GHz spectrum, which may be in the March / April time frame.