Mobile Phones with Wi-Fi Doubling Every 2 Years

A report from ABI Research predicts that the number of dual-mode phones with both Wi-Fi and cellular will keep doubling every two years. In the meantime, carriers such as T-Mobile and AT&T are learning how they can make Wi-Fi phones suit their needs.

ABI Research is expecting handset shipments with dual-mode Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity to continue to double every two years through 2011. ABI analysts predicted the same for 2008 through 2010, and with the pattern holding, if not accelerating, said they expect 144 million of such handsets to ship in 2009, with the number rising to more than 300 million in 2011.
The data is part of an Aug. 26 ABI report that examines the market opportunities for Wi-Fi from a mobile handset perspective.
"Wi-Fi's penetration into handsets has more momentum than the bad economy," analyst Michael Morgan said in a statement. "It has become a must-have item much as Bluetooth did earlier. But just having Wi-Fi in the handset isn't enough. You have to have a reason for customers to use it. Until now it has been predominantly for data use, with voice struggling to find its niche."
This struggle has partly been due to operators, many of which feared that Wi-Fi would cut into the profits they received from customer data usage. While the scenarios vary with each operator and its circumstances, this perspective is beginning to change.
T-Mobile, for example, has no land-line assets, and so embraced Wi-Fi as an opportunity to offer HotSpot at Home, its in-home service based on access points. Whereas AT&T, which does have land-line assets, now sees Wi-Fi as a way to lighten the load on its cellular network, which has been said to be strained by the iPhone.
"AT&T was thrown into the pool by the iPhone," Morgan said. "Previously, people did access data, but the iPhone led people to use Wi-Fi to a degree never seen before. Traditionally cautious Verizon hasn't been thrown into the situation yet, but they are warming up to Wi-Fi."
Nokia has been offering dual-mode phones since 2007, and today Wi-Fi is a more or less expected capability on most high-end smartphones. It's offered in the Nokia N97 and E71x, a number of BlackBerry handsets, the Palm Pre, the HTC MyTouch 3G and also handheld devices such as the Samsung Mondi, to name just a few.
"The picture may be unique to each carrier," Morgan said, "but in the end, Wi-Fi can offer most operators those two key benefits: extended reach and/or network load reduction."