The Wi-Fi Alliance last week released an interesting study that was conducted on its behalf by ABI Research. The most intriguing results of the survey were that 25 percent of subscribers canvassed would switch carriers in order to gain the benefits of Wi-Fi/mobile convergence and that almost one-third would discontinue their wireline home service if they had access to the platform.
What may be even more heartening to providers of converged services is that five different categories of benefits scored between 20 percent and 25 percent in terms of their attractiveness to consumers: reduced prices for mobile calling, reduced prices for home service, better home coverage, reduced hotspot data transmission prices, and reduced prices for voice calls from hotspots.
It's great news for the industry that the attraction is so evenly dispersed. It also should be a warning sign to cellular carriers that they risk a lot by resisting convergence. They must remember that while 3G offers improved coverage and speeds -- which to many experts obviates at least some of the advantages of Wi-Fi -- the comparison in consumers' minds will be made against current technology. While 3G is rolling out, the vast majority of cellular customers primarily still use the earlier platforms.
The release says that last year 1.8 million converged devices shipped. ABI expects the total number to enjoy an annual growth rate of 183 percent until 2001, when more than 325 million converged devices will ship. This is a big and difficult-to-believe number, since it means that there will be roughly one such device shipped for everyone in the country in a single year. ABI isn't alone, however: Infonetics Research envisions the same sort of growth rate.
Regardless, the future looks bright for combining Wi-Fi -- and, presumably, WiMax -- with advanced cellular. The final result will be fast, all-Internet protocol (IP) 4G networks that will tend to eliminate the lines between technologies. The ABI study suggests that this is precisely what people want to see happen.