Wi-Fi Is a Smartphone Must

But as the use of third-party applications grows for smartphones, so too does concern about security--or lack thereof.

At the recent CTIA trade show in Las Vegas, representatives of the Wi-Fi Alliance-the marketing body that certifies Wi-Fi devices for interoperability-pulled me aside for a while to tell me something that I already knew: Wi-Fi is now a must-have feature on mobile devices, particularly smartphones. But they had some numbers to back that up.

Their numbers, based on a study by ABI Research conducted in February, indicate that 77 percent of users of phones with Wi-Fi inside report that they are either "completely" or "very" satisfied with their device. Of these owners of Wi-Fi-enabled phones, 74 percent use the Wi-Fi and 77 percent would require the technology be in their next device.

ABI goes on to report that 44 percent of smartphones currently have Wi-Fi, with that number expected to hit 90 percent by 2014. I would actually expect such levels of penetration to come much sooner because I can think of only one widely promoted smartphone released in the last six months that shipped without Wi-Fi-the Blackberry Storm.

Of course, I don't pay attention to every device that comes down the pike, but Wi-Fi integration in smartphones has definitely come fast and furious. Even Palm-which took forever to get on board the Wi-Fi bus-is making sure Wi-Fi is in its new devices, whether they are based on Windows Mobile or on Palm's new WebOS.

Now that I think of it, I'll go even a step further: My device-an Apple iPhone-would be practically useless without Wi-Fi. No matter how many commercials I see touting more bars in more places, AT&T has completely failed to win me over with its network. I typically get a maximum of two bars of coverage in the places I spend the most time (home and the office), leaving my iPhone generally untenable for telephony and good for data primarily because I have provided my own excellent data coverage in both places via Wi-Fi.

In addition, as of this week, I can make outbound VOIP calls over Wi-Fi using Skype, for which I already have a yearly SkypeOut subscription. Instead of giving out my AT&T number, I give out my Google Voice (formerly GrandCentral) number, which routes the call to my iPhone. When the caller inevitably cannot reach me, Google Voice records the voice mail and transcribes the message to text, which is sent via e-mail and SMS. Once notified, if the transcription makes no sense, I can check the message on the Web-over Wi-Fi.

It's a lot to go through to cover up for AT&T's less-than-stellar coverage, and, yes, I will likely try out another carrier once my service contract expires.