While huge billboards shout to us about 4G and the greater speed we’ll soon enjoy with the next generation of wireless networks – WiMAX and LTE – humble Wi-Fi fills a need within homes and businesses. And more handsets are being shipped with Wi-Fi capability.

(For more on WiMAX versus LTE, click here.)

According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, Wi-Fi handset certification volume grew 142 percent in 2009 from 2008 levels. To date, more than 500 different handset models are now Wi-Fi certified.

ABI Research expects this growth trend to continue, forecasting that half a billion Wi-Fi enabled handsets will ship in 2014, with 90 percent of smartphones incorporating Wi-Fi.

Carriers see Wi-Fi as a way to offload traffic from licensed spectrum, said ABI Research analyst Michael Morgan, in a statement.

"Wireless always ends up at a wire somewhere," said Sarah Morris, senior marketing manager with the Wi-Fi Alliance. She said Wi-Fi provides "a complement to cellular or cable."

Many familiar names in the cable and telco universe are listed as members of the 10-year-old Wi-Fi Alliance, including Comcast, AT&T, Rogers and BT.

"I think they’re members because they see the opportunity to influence the technology as it gets defined," said Morris. "A lot are providing services over Wi-Fi, not stopping just at the cable modem anymore."

802.11n certifications

The Wi-Fi Alliance updated its 802.11n certification in September 2009. The first ten Wi-Fi Certified n handsets have been announced, and the devices offer consumers greater effective ranges and data rates. Also, since data transmissions are more efficient with Wi-Fi Certified n, battery life is longer.

Earlier iterations of 802.11 Wi-Fi technology (a, b and g) have data rates from 11 Mbps to 54 Mbps. But 802.11n can deliver from 300-600 Mbps, depending on the environment, and it has twice the range, said Morris.

For larger Wi-Fi networks on campuses or within businesses, Wi-Fi Certified n networks also have greater capacity than legacy networks, allowing more users to be supported on a single network node.

802.11n Wi-Fi uses multiple input multiple output (MIMO) technology. (For more on 802.11n momentum, click here.)

-Linda Hardesty

The Daily

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