Shipments of Wi-Fi handsets are expected to approximately double each year through at least 2011, industry analysts reported recently. Mobile handsets with Wi-Fi capability will top 300 million in two years, up dramatically from 144 million expected for 2009.
Despite the weak economy, Wi-Fi in cell phones "has become a must-have item, much as Bluetooth did earlier," ABI Research analyst Michael Morgan said.
The reason for the upsurge in demand is a newfound interest by carriers. "They've figured out the benefits," Morgan told Enterprise VoIPplanet.
"At first many feared that Wi-Fi would take traffic off their [cellular] networks, resulting in lost revenue. Now theyre starting to realize that it may instead mean an increase in available network capacity," according to the report entitled "Wi-Fi Capable Handsets."
Although belief among carriers in Wi-Fis advantages can still be spotty today, ultimately, carriers will see two stark advantages to offering Wi-Fi-enabled handsets: extended reach and network load reduction, said the analyst.
Some examples are already available. Verizon Wireless, despite its long-standing cautious approach, is heavily marketing its Mifi, a device using Wi-Fi to distribute a local 3G signal among five customers or devices. AT&T "was thrown into the pool" after the overwhelming popularity of the iPhone signaled increasing use of data services, said Morgan.
"Previously people did access data, but the iPhone led people to use Wi-Fi to a degree never seen before," he said.
A similar trend is seen in enterprises. By 2014, 90 percent of smartphones used in the enterprise will include Wi-Fi, according to an ABI report earlier this month.
"Business customers are the primary adopters of smartphones, and with increased penetration of Wi-Fi smartphones, this changes the playing field between cellular and Wi-Fi F/MC (Fixed/Mobile Convergence)," according to the research report.