Year in review: Wi-Fi fills the air

The expectations for Wi-Fi continued to rise in 2003, but security concerns and unproven business models remained to be concerns.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor
One of the few bright spots this year was the growth of Wi-Fi. But even as the wireless-networking technology drew praise for its potential, it became clear that it still had a lot left to prove.

The year started off with the christening of Wi-Fi as the only standard for the wireless networking market, as rival HomeRF had the final nail hammered into its coffin with the disbanding of the HomeRF Working Group. Gear makers jumped into action, increasing the number and types of handheld computers, consumer electronics gadgets and other products with built-in Wi-Fi capabilities on the market.

The wireless-networking industry was carried by sales to consumers, who were lured to Wi-Fi gear by the higher throughput rates promised by products with 802.11g technology. In the coming year, equipment combining all current Wi-Fi standards--802.11b/g/a--is expected to lift the market.

Consumer sales were so good that networking giant Cisco Systems broke from its traditional strategy of selling gear to large businesses and entered the market for home networking by buying niche leader Linksys. The acquisition placed Cisco on top of the consumer market for wireless networking gear, underscoring its No. 1 position in the enterprise market.

However, corporations were not enthusiastic about adopting Wi-Fi, mainly because security provisions such as Wired Equivalent Privacy were ineffective. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Wi-Fi Alliance and other influential industry groups tried to ease that concern by releasing Wi-Fi Protected Access, a protocol that is expected to appear in the 802.11i security standard when it debuts in 2004.

However, those security measures weren't enough to convince the mass business market. Vertical industries such as government, education, health care and retail remained the ones most likely to install Wi-Fi networks. Enterprise customers are expected to become more receptive to Wi-Fi networks in 2004, with the completion of 802.11i and efforts by developers to <="" news:link="">.

Intel pumped $300 million into a marketing campaign for its Centrino mobile technology, which combines Wi-Fi parts and a processor for notebooks. The chipmaker looks likely to continue its role as lead cheerleader for Wi-Fi next year.

While gear sales took off, the reception for Wi-Fi hot-spot service--public areas where wireless broadband is available--was cool, causing some pioneers to pull back on their aggressive plans. But carriers and retail partners such as Starbucks, McDonald's and Borders began to lay the groundwork for future hot-spot installations, indicating that they expect consumers to warm to the service.

In the future, the marriage of cellular networks with Wi-Fi networks looks set to get a closer look from major players, and bundling Wi-Fi service with another service will likely become a common strategy.

--Richard Shim

HomeRF Working Group disbands

A consortium of companies promoting the HomeRF wireless home networking specification has dissolved, signaling the commercial end of the Wi-Fi rival.
Jan. 7 2003

Wireless firms jumping gun on new spec?

With an OK for the speedy 802.11g wireless spec still months off, the impatience of early adopting gear makers could create interoperability headaches and rile consumers.
Jan. 31, 2003

Centrino takes center stage

With much fanfare and a $300 million publicity bill, Intel launches its Centrino notebook chip bundle in hopes of making mobile PCs as much a part of daily life as the toaster is.
March 12, 2003

Cisco heads home with Linksys buy

The networking giant says it plans to acquire Linksys, a manufacturer of networking gear for consumers, in a stock deal valued at $500 million.
March 20, 2003

Wi-Fi security gets a boost

The Wi-Fi Alliance announces the first round of products using the latest security spec, as it works to allay concerns about wirelessly transmitting data over networks.
April 29, 2003

Wireless spec approved, next under way

A standards body approves the 802.11g specification and starts work on another spec--802.11n--that promises to lead to even higher data-transmission speeds.
June 12, 2003

McDonald's beefs up Wi-Fi trials

The restaurant chain super-sizes its New York tests of wireless hot spots with Cometa Networks, as the networking start-up gets under way with a Wi-Fi push.
July 29, 2003

Verizon Wireless fires up hot spots

The service provider announces a Wi-Fi service for its customers in hundreds of hot spot locations throughout the nation.
Aug. 5, 2003

Wi-Fi and 3G may come together

New wireless networking chips for handheld devices are giving second life to 802.11b and could test whether Wi-Fi and cellular data services can cooperate rather than compete.
Sept. 9, 2003

As security concerns ease, businesses warm to Wi-Fi

Many large companies have stayed on the wireless-networking sidelines, but new intrusion defenses are opening the door to an increase in corporate Wi-Fi spending.
Nov. 7, 2003

Consumers power wireless-gear market

As security and management concerns ease, consumer and enterprise sales continue to drive growth in the wireless networking gear market, a research report says.
Nov. 13, 2003

Verizon puts some N.Y. hot spots on ice

The telecommunications heavyweight is cutting back on the number of hot spots it plans to install in New York by the end of the year.
Nov. 24, 2003

T-Mobile, iPass sign Wi-Fi roaming deal

The hot-spot operator and service provider iPass agree to a deal that allows subscribers to access each other's networks.
Dec. 15, 2003

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