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The number of frequent WLAN users in North America may grow from 4.2 million in 2003 to more than 31 million in 2007.

According to a Gartner study there could be more than 100,000 wireless LAN 'hot spots' within the next five years.

Building out this infrastructure will take investment. It will also take time for consumers to latch onto the benefits of the technology.

For these reasons Gartner reckons profitability for hot spot providers will be "stalled" for three or four years. It recommends that businesses and service providers should deploy established 802.11b kit for now, rather than its higher-speed successors (802.11a and g). In most cases, businesses will be satisfied with performance of 802.11b, making it the technology of choice for hot spot frequenters.

However 802.11a, in combination with 802.11g, will begin to replace 802.11b purchases in early 2004, Gartner believes. The additional bandwidth will be used for new applications such as voice over IP and streaming video. 802.11a technology brings other benefits too.

"When they mature in 2004, 802.11a WLANs will offer significant technological advantages over 802.11b networks," said Ken Dulaney, Gartner research director. "Some of the advantages include link rates of up to 54 Mbps, lack of interference from Bluetooth and consumer devices operating in the crowded 2.4 GHz band, and the availability of up to 13 channels in North America and more in European markets."

Gartner reports that enterprise demand for wireless LAN technology is particularly strong within vertical segments such as education, healthcare and warehouse/manufacturing. ®

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