We love Wi-Fi. It’s everywhere, happy to feed our national Internet addiction. And a new study by In-Stat suggests that the Wi-Fi opiate will be with us for quite a while. Helping to drive adoption is the consumer electronics industry, whose gadgets increasingly allow Wi-Fi to carry video and audio streams around the house with reckless abandon. According to In-Stat, attach rates for Wi-Fi among game consoles are already approaching 80%. And the DTV switch (which will at least partially take place tonight at midnight) is expected to be another high volume driver, reaching nearly 21 million units shipped with Wi-Fi by 2012.
The use of Wi-Fi to carry video has been a relatively recent phenomenon. In the old days, the 802.11b/g standard wasn’t a reliable video path. No longer. With 802.11n, consumers are streaming everything from YouTube to Hulu to gaming consoles, wireless laptops and even mobile devices such as the iPhone—all over Wi-Fi home networks while sitting at the couch or the kitchen table. “Finalization of IEEE 802.11n will remedy some of the technical issues that constrained Wi-Fi adoption in video-centric CE devices,” says Victoria Fodale, In-Stat analyst. “We expect the adoption of Wi-Fi in the living room to accelerate.” But at least for the near-term future, the mobile space—including laptops and cell phones—will continue to drive most adoption. “Mobile device shipments will still outnumber stationary CE devices by nearly ten to one,” says Fodale.
The bottom line is that Wi-Fi will continue to drive convergence between linear TV and online video in the home. The only question is whether such entertainment will flow primarily through cable set-tops, laptop computers, gaming consoles or cell phones—or perhaps some neverending combination of all those devices. Or will ancient concepts like the Home Network Gateway finally end up controlling all of this traffic from a central hub? Whatever the method of choice, expect continued jostling between content owners, aggregators and advertisings over who owns the customer. Some things never change.