Infonetics chartConsumers’ seemingly insatiable desire for Wi-Fi connectivity is driving the carrier equipment market to double-digit growth that will culminate in a $2.1 billion worldwide market by 2016.

A recent study by Infonetics Research also said that revenue for carrier Wi-Fi equipment, which included mobile Wi-Fi access points, Wi-Fi hotspot access points and Wi-Fi hotspot controllers, grew 35 percent from 2010 to 2011.

"Our many recent conversations with mobile operators and equipment vendors validate our view that mobile operators are hot for hotspots," said Richard Webb, directing analyst for microwave, mobile offload and mobile broadband devices at Infonetics Research. "The carrier Wi-Fi equipment market has grown consistently since 2007, initially driven by exploding demand from mobile operators augmenting their 3G and 4G deployments with Wi-Fi hotspot services.

“The strongest new growth driver is mobile operators deploying carrier Wi-Fi to offload a portion of their mobile data traffic. Additionally, fixed-line operators and ISPs continue to deploy Wi-Fi to extend existing Wi-Fi hotspot services, cable and DSL operators use Wi-Fi as an enhancement for their broadband services, and many operators will soon be upgrading their existing access points to new Wi-Fi standards – such as the forthcoming 802.11ac protocol."

According to Infonetics, mobile Wi-Fi access points are expected to experience the highest compound annual growth rate, at 86 percent, through 2016 as mobile operators seek a closer integration of Wi-Fi with the mobile network.

Among the Wi-Fi vendors, BelAir Networks – which was recently acquired by Ericsson – Cisco and Ruckus Wireless combined accounted for more than two-thirds of last year’s global carrier Wi-Fi equipment revenue.

As for the future roadmap for Wi-Fi, Infonetics anticipated that new players would enter the market, disrupting early market share standings, and with growing demand for Wi-Fi-integrated base stations from mobile operators, carrier Wi-Fi market share could shift toward the mobile infrastructure vendors.