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Study: Dual-mode WiFi handsets to double every two years

Aug 28, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

ABI Research has released a report predicting a doubling of dual-mode phones supporting both WiFi and cellular networks every two years. The research firm predicts that 144 million dual-mode handsets will ship this year, rising to more than 300 million in 2011.

Despite the fact that, after a slow start in the U.S., mobile carriers have now widely deployed 3G networks, WiFi continues to be a popular feature on cellphones. High-end smartphones such as the now-shipping GarminAsus Nuvifone G60 (pictured below, at right) typically offer both WiFi and cellular.

ABI Research predicts that the doubling of dual-mode mobile phones every two years will continue through at least 2011. This year's 144 million dual-mode handsets will grow to more than 300 million by then, and could possibly rise to a higher figure, the firm adds.

According to ABI, the continuing spread of WiFi networks is only one reason for the popularity of dual-mode phones. Another reason is that carriers — who still often dictate handset features — have become more willing to listen to customer demands.

Until recently, says ABI, WiFi has been driven almost solely by data access needs, as mobile carriers have been wary of supporting voice over WiFi (VoWiFi), fearing that it would cut into 3G profits. "[WiFi] has become a must-have item much as Bluetooth did earlier, but just having Wi-Fi in the handset isn't enough," said ABI analyst Michael Morgan in a statement. "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."

As ABI notes, T-Mobile has begun to embrace WiFi in order to make up for its lack of land-line assets, says ABI. The company currently uses WiFi to offer its "HotSpot at Home" access point service.

AT&T, meanwhile, which still depends on wired phone network revenue, has been more reluctant to support WiFi. Now, however, it sees the technology as a way to relieve its overburdened cellular network, whose limitations have been brought into stark relief by the popularity of Apple's iPhone.

"AT&T was thrown into the pool by the iPhone," Morgan stated. "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."

Other reasons for carriers to support WiFi is to extend the reach of their phones, says ABI. There are still numerous areas not served by 3G service, but which are in reach of community, commercial, and private WiFi networks. WiFi also helps to extend mobile bandwidth within buildings where 3G services often have trouble reaching.

The new Linux-based Linksys Wireless-N Router has moved up to faster 802.11n WiFi

The ABI Research report is said to cover:

  • Current and projected market size for both pure WiFi handsets and dual-mode cellular/WiFi handsets in shipments and revenue
  • Growth differences in vertical, enterprise, and consumer markets
  • Mobile operator motivations for dual-mode
  • Impact of 802.11n and prospects for domination over existing 802.11g and 802.11a/g deployments
  • Trends in SIP-enabled handsets overtaking UMA handsets
  • Major market forces and barriers
  • Role of semiconductor manufacturers, handset vendors, and service providers in dual-mode phones
  • WiFi "attach rates" for feature phones and smartphones


More information on the ABI Research report, "Wi-Fi Capable Handsets," including a table of contents, may be found here.

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