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WiFi chipset sales soaring this year, group says

Growth fueled by dual-mode phones and draft 802.11n standard

Shipments of WiFi chipsets will hit 300 million this year and more than 9 per cent will have gone into dual-mode phones, the WiFi Alliance industry group is set to announce Tuesday.

Citing research by In-Stat, the organization forecast a significant rise for the full year from last year’s total of 213 million chipsets shipped. That would be a gain of more than 40 per cent, a bigger rise than occurred between 2005 and 2006.

One new driver was WiFi certification of gear that uses Draft 2.0 of the IEEE 802.11n standard. The group started approving these products in June, breaking from its traditional practice of waiting for final standards, and unleashed pent-up demand among early adopters. The long-awaited 802.11n standard has been delayed by rancor among equipment vendors and is now forecast for final approval in mid-2009. At that point, the WiFi Alliance will certify products based on the standard and also ensure they interoperate with Draft 2.0 gear, said Karen Hanley, senior director of the group.

The WiFi Alliance has certified about 140 devices using the draft standard, Hanley said. Those products made up about 9 per cent of unit shipments in the year.

WiFi also is increasingly showing up in dual-mode phones with both cellular and wireless LAN capability. The group estimated 9.16 per cent of chipsets shipped this year will go into these phones, which can give mobile subscribers better data performance where WiFi is available. Meanwhile, phones that only use WiFi will make up a small fraction of one percent of chipsets, the group said.

The share of chipsets going into the most common WiFi product, embedded chipsets in mobile PCs, fell slightly as newer uses for the technology emerged. In addition to classic PC wireless LAN connectivity, WiFi is used in consumer electronics devices such as game consoles.

With the advent of draft 802.11n technology, WiFi can now stream high-definition video and will increasingly show up in consumer electronics products, Hanley said. By 2011 or 2012, the group expects nearly one-third of WiFi chipsets to end up in devices such as TVs, home stereos and MP3 players. Also at that time, one-third will be in cell phones, the alliance predicted.