Industrial WLAN Access Points Supporting 6 GHz Will Surge from 2023’s 2% of Total Shipments to 71% by 2030, Driven by Rising Demand for Additional Spectrum Capacity

18 Jun 2024

Operational Technology (OT) networks are increasingly adopting wireless solutions to enable new use cases, improve floor space efficiency, and reduce maintenance costs. Many facilities prefer Wireless LAN (WLAN) over cellular alternatives for its scalability, versatility, and cost-effectiveness. While WLAN faces challenges with deterministic networking and roaming, these issues are being mitigated through vendor-proprietary protocols, advancements in 802.11 standards, and expanded access to the 6 GHz spectrum. According to global technology intelligence firm ABI Research, these improvements, alongside rising wireless demand in OT, will boost the Industrial WLAN market, with a projected 7.5% CAGR in annual shipments of industrial WLAN Access Points (APs) from 2024 to 2030.

“Of all the innovations within Industrial WLAN, the opening up of the 6 GHz band has the broadest appeal because it addresses the most pressing challenge faced by the industrial sector – spectrum congestion,” says Andrew Spivey, Principal Analyst at ABI Research. “Rapid adoption of 6 GHz is anticipated in industrial networks, and in contrast to the enterprise WLAN market, it is primarily a consideration around space, and not cost, which will determine whether or not an Industrial WLAN AP incorporates an additional 6 GHz radio.”

The dynamics of the industrial WLAN market are markedly different from those of the broader enterprise WLAN market. A clear demonstration of this is that over half (54.1%) of all ruggedized WLAN APs shipped in 2023 supported Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n), a protocol first introduced in 2009 and which is now virtually unseen in carpeted enterprises. Again, at odds with enterprise, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) never saw widespread adoption in OT, with Wi-Fi 4 expected to remain predominant until being surpassed by Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) in 2026. The industry expects Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be) to face a similar fate to Wi-Fi 5, believing that many will choose to bypass it in favor of the subsequent protocol, Wi-Fi 8 (802.11bn). This is because the features of Wi-Fi 7 are not targeted industrial networks, whereas Wi-Fi 8’s focus on ‘ultra-high reliability’ will be extremely attractive to OT.

“While Wi-Fi 6E is already fading from the enterprise WLAN market, high levels of demand are anticipated for this ‘stepping stone’ standard within the industrial WLAN market for many years to come. This is because whilst industrial networks crave access to 6 GHz, they see little value in what Wi-Fi 7 offers, leading the majority to settle for Wi-Fi 6E,” Spivey concludes.

These findings are from ABI Research’s WLAN Industrial Networking market data report. This report is part of the company’s Wi-Fi & WLAN Technologies & Markets research service, which includes research, data, and analyst insights. Based on extensive primary interviews, market data reports present an in-depth analysis of key market trends and factors for a specific technology.

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