WiFi Goes Mainstream in Phones

Packet over Wireless

WiFi Goes Mainstream in Phones

By TMCnet Special Guest
Michael Stanford
  |  August 17, 2010

The number of Wi-Fi certifications for phones has been better than doubling year-on-year for the past eight quarters. Several factors have been driving this.

First, the power efficiency of the chips is no longer an issue. Second, the carriers have become comfortable with Wi-Fi. The iPhone (News - Alert) demonstrated to carriers that Wi-Fi doesn't threaten revenues, and that it can reduce network load. Another carrier concern is support, and there has been a change there, too. There is a teeming variety of access points, and to design a client chip that interoperates smoothly with all of them is technically challenging. The three companies that supply most of the access point chipsets have an advantage. These companies, Atheros, Broadcom (News - Alert) and Marvell, now all ship client chips appropriate for use in phones. Again, the iPhone proved the concept. With a Marvell chip in the first model and a Broadcom chip in the current model, Wi-Fi has always been easy to use on the iPhone.

2010 has seen a relative increase in Wi-Fi feature phones as opposed to smartphones. Historically, the ratio of smartphones to feature phones with Wi-Fi has been about 60/40. In the first half of 2010 that ratio flipped. This is because the justifications for Wi-Fi in phones have changed. Wi-Fi used to be for Web browsing, which favors smartphones over feature phones. Recently the industry has recognized that Wi-Fi is useful for streaming photos, music and video from phones to PCs and other home electronics, so feature phones need it, too.

So the Wi-Fi phone market is maturing from a volume point of view. Next come the technical advances: 802.11n has arrived. In March, April and May, respectively, 7 percent, 25 percent and 38 percent of Wi-Fi phone certifications were for 802.11n. This was driven mainly by Samsung, which accounted for more than 80 percent of those certifications, but Acer (News - Alert), LG, Motorola, Nokia and RIM have also certified phones for 802.11n. By the end of 2010 most new Wi-Fi phones will support 802.11n. Further out is 5GHz operation, which currently seems to be languishing. Only six phones have ever been certified for it, none yet in 2010.

Michael Stanford (News - Alert) has been an entrepreneur and strategist in VoIP for more than a decade. Visit his blog at HERE.

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi