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Summary:

Wi-Fi was hot last year and it’s only getting hotter in 2010 as the availability of personal hotspots such as the Mi-Fi and the rise of the Direct Wi-Fi standard mean that putting a Wi-Fi chip in anything makes the device more useful.

Last year saw the resurgence of Wi-Fi hotspots as more and more handsets incorporated the technology, and cellular network operators and wired ISPs signed deals or bought access to Wi-Fi networks. But while 2009 may have brought back Wi-Fi around the town, I think this year we’ll increasingly see Wi-Fi being used inside the home as a result of faster home broadband networks. A slew of broadband-enabled devices — from DVD players to music systems — are coming that use Wi-Fi  to connect to the web, as is a new Direct Wi-Fi standard that will enable consumers to stream their media as well as easily get their video and pictures off their gadgets without ever hopping on the public Internet.

For proof, see the Wi-Fi hype that will be on display at this week’s Consumer Electronics Trade Show; or better yet, take a peek at the chart below showing how Wall Street is valuing the companies that develop Wi-Fi chips. I included Intel and Qualcomm, both of which are benefiting from the mobile computing and mobile phone popularity as reference points. Clearly the belief in Wi-Fi goes beyond netbooks and handsets.

And the availability of personal hotspots such as the Mi-Fi and the rise of the Direct Wi-Fi standard make Atheros, Broadcom and Marvell big winners. Also keep an eye on Taiwanese Wi-Fi chip maker Ralink Technology, as well as a host of startups using Wi-Fi around the home, from Quantenna and Celeno to the likes of Sonos and Eye-Fi, which use Wi-Fi to wirelessly transport content.



Image courtesy of Flickr user Adventures in Librarianship.

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  1. Stacey- Any news on the point-to-point functionality coming for Wi-Fi? Thought this was fascinating when you covered it back in the fall.

    1. Stacey Higginbotham Mari Silbey Monday, January 4, 2010

      I think they are showing it off at CES. I cannot wait to see it in action and see if it’s as disruptive as I think it could be.

      1. That stuff is basically playing catch-up to Bluetooth.

  2. Ole´

    WiFi was truly the original wireless broadband (going back a decade). When it is in the majority of handsets you won’t need a mifi or PMG as they used to be called any longer. It is nearly impossible to imagine anything other wireless access technology supplanting WiFi as the means to extend home broadband connection to the internet….except possibly BPL…especially for those blu-ray players that now connect directly through WiFi, but, still need to be set up by the consumer. A home that has both, and a means to connect may also play a bigger role in the future which is no doubt what motivated Atheros to acquire Intellon.

  3. Michael Marcus Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    It is gratifying to see all this action on Wi-Fi as we enter the 25th anniversary year of the 5/9/85 FCC decision that started it all. At the time virtually the whole industry was violently opposed to what FCC was working on, with only H-P moderately interested.

    This decision came from the thinking of both the Carter and Reagan administrations that removing barriers to new technology would stimulate economic growth. It worked beyond their wildest dreams!

    See http://spectrumtalk.blogspot.com/2010/01/origins-of-wi-fi-and-bluetooth.html

    1. Michael – you are talking about Part 15 rules? those were profound, and under-appreciated. They have been brilliant in retrospect. It was truly bizarre to realize in 2000 (was that really 10 years ago??) that 802.11b provided more throughput at 10 Mbps with a $100 AP than a 3G BTS did at $100,000 or more. And this just after the European’s spent ungodly amounts on their 3G spectrum.

      1. Yes. What is today’s 15.247 .
        See http://www.iep.gmu.edu/UnlicensedWireless.php for a set of papers on how this all came about.

        It would be nice to say that in 1979 we anticipated Wi-Fi, but the crystal ball wasn’t that good. But we recognized that spread spectrum, e.g. CDMA, was a new technology blocked by anachronistic regulation and were trying to create an initial commercial opening for it with as much opportunity for innovation as possible. That faith in deregulation is what enabled Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well as the lesser known ZigBee.\

        At the time the action was severely criticized by then dominant industry players. There were no awards for those involved – quite the opposite.

  4. Philip Kearney Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    @Mari The Wi-Fi Alliance will be demonstrating Wi-Fi Direct at their booth at CES.

    @Richard Wi-Fi Direct is no more catchup to Bluetooth than Bluetooth AMP is catchup to Wi-Fi. Oh wait, BT AMP actually uses the Wi-Fi radios in the device so who is really ‘catching up’ to whom? ;-)

    1. Already planning to stop by. Very excited. Thanks.

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