Who do you Wi-Fi with?

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Chips, for decades have been the no-name work horses of the technology revolution. Not a chance any average American can name the largest selling chip ever! (Motorola 68K might be it, but even I am not sure!) Intel, however changed that when it started calling its processors Pentium, Celeron, Itanium and now Centrino. (By the way today is Centrino’s Birthday!)

Centrino, actually is more than just a product (if it is one!) – it is a brand, which is about wireless/Wi-Fi lifestyle. By positioning itself (falsely, in fact) at the avant-garde of Wi-Fi through clever branding, Intel is pushing true innovators such as Broadcom and Atheros into the background. ABI Research warns that unless these companies get their branding act together, Intel is going to run away with the Wi-Fi chip market like it did with the processors.

bq. Intel, which almost single-handedly boosted awareness of Wi-Fi with its $300 million Centrino campaign last year, represented less than 5% of the market for Wi-Fi chipset shipments in 2003. This is set to change, and ABI Research expects Intel’s market share to grow to over 30% by 2005.

While no one has $300 million “benjamins” lying around, ABI has tips for Intel’s competitors. They think that Intel will be focused on the mini-PCI cards, the embedded adapters that make laptops Wi-Fi-enabled. This leaves an opening in other segments such as the SOHO and enterprise routers and adapters. ABI Research believes that this segment will remain highly competitive, though Broadcom and Conexant are among the best positioned to emerge as market leader.

Both companies also have a strong offering in 802.11g and a/g solutions which makes them a contender for the mini-PCI business. However, Intel’s strength of brand in this area will make it much more difficult for the competition to be as successful here as they are in the adapter / router segment. Later this year when Intel launches its own 802.11a/g chipset, this will likely consolidate Intel’s monopoly on the mini-PCI segment.

bq. The game for the remaining players in the Wi-Fi IC business is going to be one of branding. Intel has proven its abilities to win consumer mindshare. As future Wi-Fi opportunities continue to be driven by consumer-based volume markets, Intel’s competitors must launch strong brand campaigns of their own or make sure they strategically position themselves as the key supplier to an OEM who can.

I think ABI is making some valid points. Both Broadcom and Conexant should indulge in a down and dirty campaign like, “Real Men (i mean routers) use Broadcom,” basically relegating Intel to the consumer market. Just the way Intel did with AMD!

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