The Wi-Fi and Wireless LAN (WLAN) infrastructure market is undergoing a period of rapid innovation, as the introduction of Wi-Fi 7, tapping of the 6 GHz spectrum, the emergence of new platforms, like OpenWiFi, and the convergence with 5G redefine the potential of the technology. At the same time, successive challenges continue to confront the market, with the long-awaited easing of supply disruptions giving way to a harsh macroeconomic environment. While these economic headwinds will impact 2023 shipments, the industry should rebound to solid growth thanks to these innovations and the growing importance of high-speed, high-capacity, low latency, and reliable residential and enterprise wireless LAN. Reflecting this dynamic, ABI Research, a global technology intelligence firm, forecasts that Wi-Fi and WLAN Access Point (AP) shipments will have a 7% CAGR between 2022 and 2028, achieving a 1.5x increase in overall AP unit shipments by the end of the period.
“While the total number of Wi-Fi and WLAN AP shipments will essentially plateau in 2023, closer inspection reveals a divergence in the fortunes of different markets,” explains Andrew Spivey, Industry Analyst at ABI Research. “Residential AP shipments in 2023 will rise by just 0.3%, enterprise, yet WLAN shipments are projected to clock a strong 8.2% expansion. This will be driven by a thirst from enterprises for the superior performance and capacity of the latest Wi-Fi standards and the fulfillment of outstanding orders delayed due to recent supply disruptions. It is not all doom and gloom for the residential market, though, as we expect a healthy rebound in 2024.”
Wi-Fi AP shipments superseded Wi-Fi 5 for the first time in 2022, and in 2023, Wi-Fi 6 shipments should more than double those of Wi-Fi 5. 2022 also saw an explosion of Wi-Fi 6E clients reach the market, alongside a corresponding 9-fold increase in Wi-Fi 6E AP shipments. However, Wi-Fi 6E AP shipments should peak in 2024, followed by a gradual decline as the value proposition of the standard is eroded by the arrival of Wi-Fi 7. The first pre-certification Wi-Fi 7 APs will arrive in the market in 2023, although almost a third of all shipped Wi-Fi 7 APs this year will be dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) only. These will be targeted at markets without 6 GHz access or environments which require the new technical features of Wi-Fi 7 but don’t yet have sufficient 6 GHz client demand. One example of the latter case is Multi-Dwelling Units (MDUs), within which Multi-Link Operation (MLO) can help achieve high latency in highly congested environments.
“As Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 gradually introduce the 6 GHz spectrum into the market over the coming years, Wi-Fi will transition from a dual-band to a tri-band technology,” says Spivey. Yet the impact of 6 GHz’s arrival on the residential and enterprise markets will be markedly divergent. In residential, ISPs will continue to prefer low-cost dual-band solutions until reaching high 6 GHz client saturation levels in 2027. “Enterprise, conversely, will see dual-band be relegated to a marginal status almost immediately, as businesses abandon it for the higher performance and capacity of tri-band, alongside the greater range of Standard Power 6 GHz. Accordingly, mid-tier enterprises will migrate to tri-radio. At the same time, the high-end will adopt quad- and even penta-radio APs, with the additional radios serving as configurable software-defined radios, or as a monitoring radio for enhancing network performance,” Spivey concludes.
These findings are from ABI Research’s Residential, Enterprise, and Industrial WLAN Markets and Technologies 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 in-depth analysis on key market trends and factors for a specific technology.
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