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Continued Upside within Wi-Fi Chipset Market

The Wi-Fi chipset market continues to boom, with integrated Wi-Fi capabilities taking hold in a growing number of device categories, according to an In-Stat market study.

Traditional networking segments, including home/SOHO access point (AP) devices -- including Wi-Fi routers and gateways -- and external clients were large pieces of the Wi-Fi chipset market pie in 2006, and home/SOHO AP devices are expected to show healthy growth over the forecast period.

But across the forecast period, from 2007 through 2011, portable connectivity applications will drive the Wi-Fi market growth -- Wi-Fi's primary market segment drivers are expected to be Mobile PCs, Portable CE devices and Dual-Mode Cellular/Wi-Fi handsets.

Overall, In-Stat believes that several factors have influenced the growth and evolution of the market over 2006 and throughout the first-half of 2007.

Practically every new mobile PC has embedded Wi-Fi. Consequently, this segment was Wi-Fi's main growth segment in 2006, and is forecast to be the number one market segment through 2011. More than 84 million mobile PCs with embedded Wi-Fi shipped in 2006, a 33 percent increase over the 2005 total shipments of 61 million.

Shipments are expected to reach almost 110 million in 2007. Notebook PC prices continue to plummet, while performance and power continue to improve. Worldwide, mobile PCs are displacing desktop PCs. Budget notebook PCs are pushing the $500 price point at the low-end, and new segments of mobile PCs include UMPCs, as well as the devices that are shipping under the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) movement, which promises to move several millions of these devices over the next few years.

Over 30 million Nintendo DS and Sony Playstation Portable (PSP) devices shipped in 2006, and volumes are expected to approach 30 million once again in 2007. More and more, Nintendo and Sony are capitalizing on Wi-Fi capabilities by enabling on-line game play and other applications through Wi-Fi home networking.

The release of Microsoft's Zune in late 2006 was expected to kick-start the uptake rate of Wi-Fi onto Portable Media Players (PMPs), which includes portable digital audio players. The PMP market accounted for 170 million units in 2006, and is expected to grow to 190 million units in 2007.

Although Microsoft is not expected to take significant share in this market segment, which is heavily dominated by Apple, In-Stat believes that Microsoft's move is expected to drive other PMP vendors to attach Wi-Fi -- and reap the revenue benefits.

As an Example, Sansa released the "Sansa Connect" in 2007, a Wi-Fi-enabled PMP. And, consequently, Apple is set to release a Wi-Fi-enabled iPod in 2H07. In-Stat expects a little over 5 percent of PMP shipments in 2007 to be Wi-Fi-enabled, which accounts for an estimated 10 million units. The Wi-Fi uptake rate is expected to experience healthy growth over the forecast period.

With the Bluetooth attach rate to total cellular handsets nearing 50 percent in 2006, the integration of Wi-Fi with Bluetooth onto a single chipset could significantly help to drive the Wi-Fi uptake into cellular handsets. Marvell, Broadcom and TI have announced one-chip Wi-Fi/Bluetooth solutions.

TI and NXP, who both are market leaders in the Bluetooth chipset market for handsets, have been offering single-chip Wi-Fi and single-chip Bluetooth solutions together as a package for the last few years, providing for optimal co-existence mechanisms between the two wireless technologies -- a single chip solution integrating both technologies, where components are optimally integrated and co-existence mechanisms are provided, is the next step.

Broadcom and TI are also offering FM radio on their single-chip combination Wi-Fi/Bluetooth solutions. With dual-mode Wi-Fi/cellular handset shipments expected to reach almost 27 million in 2007 (up from 6 million in 2006), combination Bluetooth and Wi-Fi solutions could really help spike the Wi-Fi attach rate.

Wi-Fi serves as a relatively cheap and effective way to enable access to console vendor portals for online gaming, and access to downloadable content and applications. With the Sony PlayStation2 and Microsoft XBox, gamers used external Wi-Fi adapters to connect to their home WLANs.

Released in late 2006, the PlayStation3 and Nintendo Wii were the first gaming consoles to embed Wi-Fi. Over 5 million of these consoles shipped out in 2006, with 20 million shipments expected in 2007. Meanwhile, the XBox360 continues to drive external Wi-Fi gaming adapters, with over 7 million external Wi-Fi gaming adapter shipments in 2006, and more than 8 million expected to ship in 2007.

Speedy 802.11n products have been highly anticipated for some time, especially desired for providing high quality wireless media streaming in the home. Draft 1.0 802.11n products were released in 2Q06, in the midst of much controversy. Early testing did not go well for the early products, on both the interoperability and performance sides.

But In-Stat says that Wi-Fi chipset vendors have worked diligently to clear up these issues. Chipset vendors who released Draft 1.0 802.11n chipsets -- namely Marvell, Atheros and Broadcom -- breathed a sigh of relief when Draft 2.0 was ratified in March 2007, incorporating few significant changes to the Draft 1.0 standard.

Although only a little over 2 percent of total Wi-Fi home AP shipments (including Wi-Fi\n routers, gateways and home APs) were "Draft n" in 2006, In-Stat expects this percentage to show a healthy increase this year, rising to approximately 15 percent of total home AP device shipments. One major reason for this development is the chipset vendor release of scaled-down 802.11n chipsets, allowing for sub-$100 Draft n wireless routers to be available at retail.

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