William Gurley compares 802.11 with x86 and Ethernet and writes why it is the next big platform:
802.11 is to wireless communications what the x86 is to computing and what Ethernet is to networking. This “open-standard radio” is today supported by more than 115 vendors with more than 900 certified products. The collective R&D of Intel, Broadcom, Cisco Systems and Motorola, as well the entire venture capital community, will move this technology further and further along the price performance curve.
In five short years, a backwardly compatible 802.11g chip began to offer about 25 times the performance at about one-twentieth the price of the first-generation radios in this market. As before, these low price points are leading to increased market opportunities and lower and lower prices. Currently, 802.11 radios are a 50-million-unit-per-year market, but history suggests that this is merely the beginning.
With some 802.11 radio chips approaching $5 price points, Wi-Fi will likely be embedded in every electronic product under the sun. This pervasiveness will impact the communications market in two remarkable ways. First, vendors that build supporting infrastructure and applications will come to assume that Wi-Fi is onboard, further entrenching the standard. Perhaps more importantly, as a client technology, 802.11 will increasingly be considered “free.”
In the wireless communications world, the cost of client technology (sometimes referred to as CPE, for consumer premises equipment) typically has a huge impact on overall system economics and therefore adoption. With “free” CPE, 802.11 will have a distinct competitive economic advantage.
802.11, or one of its backwardly compatible descendants, will dominate the wireless communications sector over the next 10 years the same way the x86 architecture dominates computing and that Ethernet dominates networking.