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The 'Remote Work' Trend Drives Networking Investment

The Work from Home (WFH) phenomena has fueled the need for more devices, better internet access, and secure networking technologies. Plus, the COVID-19 pandemic is now driving demand for Wi-Fi customer premise equipment (CPE) as millions of people work and learn from their homes.

According to the latest global market study by ABI Research, the closely related worldwide Wi-Fi CPE market will see vendors ship more than 223 million units in 2020 -- that's a surge of 10 million units from 2019 reported growth.

"Stay-at-home orders imposed in the first quarter of 2020 forced millions of consumers to work from home and students to do home-based learning, creating the need for ultra-reliable broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity in households worldwide," said Khin Sandi Lynn, an analyst at ABI Research.

Wi-Fi CPE Market Development

There has been a sudden spike in the adoption of Wi-Fi routers and wireless network extenders as consumers seek a reliable Wi-Fi connection that can simultaneously support multiple users and devices.

That growth in the use of applications -- such as video conferencing, live TV streaming, and online gaming at home -- resulted in consumers adopting Wi-Fi CPE for better coverage and higher capacity. 

Although some governments are reopening the economy, the demand for higher efficiency Wi-Fi solutions will continue beyond the current pandemic. The adoption of entertainment platforms and IoT devices in broadband households are driving increasing shipments of Wi-Fi mesh systems and CPE with new Wi-Fi standards.

Wireless networking CPE with 802.11ac standard represents ~80 percent of total CPE units shipped at present. However, early demand for Wi-Fi 6 (802.11 ax) devices is set to grow across the globe.

Telecom network operators such as Com Hem and Telefonica have introduced CPE supporting Wi-Fi 6 to their customers. Availability through both the telecom service provider and retail markets is expected to significantly drive adoption in the years to come.

"Not surprisingly the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in enterprise Wi-Fi deployments in 1Q 2020," Lynn points out. "As businesses evaluate their investment priorities based on economic conditions, the adoption in the enterprise segment is likely to remain limited in the short term."

In addition, telecom carrier Wi-Fi deployments have been slowing down as LTE wireless network coverage expands across most global regions. This trend will further slow Wi-Fi CPE unit shipments to the enterprise market segment.

Nonetheless, the migration to Wi-Fi infrastructure with CPE supporting higher performance Wi-Fi standards -- such as Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) -- creates an opportunity for the enterprise CPE market in the long term.

Furthermore, the increasing use of live video streaming during online corporate events and in the healthcare and education markets is expected to further drive more Wi-Fi 6 technology adoption.

Outlook for Wi-Fi Technology Innovation and Growth

It's forecast that Wi-Fi 6 will become the dominating Wi-Fi standard by 2023 in both the consumer and enterprise Wi-Fi market, while the networking industry prepares for the next generation Wi-Fi standard, Wi-Fi 6E.

Semiconductor vendors have announced chipsets supporting Wi-Fi 6E, and the first Wi-Fi CPE is likely to arrive in 2021. In addition to supporting the latest Wi-Fi standard, the integration of IoT connectivity and cloud-based Wi-Fi network management features will enable CPE makers to differentiate among competitors in both consumer and enterprise Wi-Fi segments.

According to the ABI Research market assessment, consumer and enterprise Wi-Fi CPE shipment will reach 259 million and 15 million units respectively in 2025. Moreover, I believe that due to the increase in distributed workforce use cases and cloud service adoption, more enterprise CIOs and CTOs will re-assess their application delivery platforms and related secure networking requirements.

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