In February 2009, ABI Research found that dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi handset shipments were set to double between 2008 and 2010. ABI Research analysts have confirmed that a similar pattern will hold true – or even accelerate – for the period 2009-2011. This year is on track to see 144 million handsets shipped, with forecasts for 2011 at just over 300 million.

“Wi-Fi’s penetration into handsets has more momentum than the bad economy,” said industry analyst Michael Morgan in a statement. “Verizon has not enthusiastically embraced Wi-Fi in its handsets, while AT&T has. AT&T was thrown into the pool by the iPhone. 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 that situation yet, but they are warming up to Wi-Fi.”

Wi-Fi’s benefits depend on a carrier’s circumstances too. Consider T-Mobile: a wireless carrier that owns no landline assets. It used Wi-Fi (via ‘Hotspot at Home’ access points) to deliver an improved in-home service that it couldn’t achieve before. In contrast, AT&T does have landline assets. Here Wi-Fi’s benefit is to take a load off AT&T’s cellular network.

“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.”

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