As you might expect, 802.11ac was a hot topic at Wireless Field Day 5. While there wasn’t a lot of talk about it onscreen, there was a lot of talk about chipset vendors between the delegates and sponsors. Surprisingly, Meru and Xirrus were some of the most open about talking about their chipset vendors of choice. Props to Xirrus for being the only vendor to admit they were using Qualcomm Atheros on-air for a yet-to-ship product.
The general consensus was that Broadcom surprised a lot of people with their focus on the enterprise and their speed to market. At the time of writing this, all of the shipping enterprise 802.11ac access points are Broadcom chipsets in the enterprise space (Cisco, Aruba and Meru).
Atheros was the king of the enterprise AP market in 802.11n. With the exception of Cisco who is known for their Marvel chipsets, almost every enterprise class AP vendor used Atheros for their 11n chipsets. Now Broadcom is the first to market and a number of the enterprise manufacturers have made the jump to Broadcom due to a significant lead time of getting their gear to market.
But being early to market didn’t come without a price. There are some restrictions around the number of encrypted clients, number of beam-formed clients and whether they support promiscuous packet capture.
I would expect to see vendors bringing their Atheros based chipsets to market soon. Xirrus passed around their 802.11ac module based on Qualcomm Atheros. I would expect to see a number of product announcement in the coming months and for the vendors to promote how they are different from their competitors products.
The real question is whether vendors who have jumped on the Broadcom bandwagon will continue to stay there, or if they will make the jump back to Atheros when those products become available. This will also help AP vendors help differentiate themselves from these early generation products. One thing you can bet on, it will be an exciting ride.
Competition in this space will be good for everyone. It will cause chipset manufactures to innovate with features and functionality, drive down price and generate product differentiation for enterprise customers.