Even with the growth of 3G and the rollout of 4G under way, Wi-Fi has only strengthened its grip on consumers. That’s the upshot of a study of 1,000 millennial users (ages 17 to 29) in the U.S. and 400 in China, Korea and Japan, who say Wi-Fi use has become integral to the way people communicate and maintain relationships.
According to the survey, commissioned by the Wi-Fi Alliance, almost 70 percent of respondents said they spend more than four hours a day on a Wi-Fi connection. More than half of those polled in the U.S. consider Wi-Fi a necessity in restaurants and malls, and 64 percent of U.S. respondents and 89 percent of Chinese users stated it would be almost impossible to maintain many of their friendships without Wi-Fi. Denying them Wi-Fi would also darken their moods considerably: Three out of four U.S. respondents said they would be grumpier if they went without Wi-Fi access for a week compared to going a week without coffee or tea.
The fact that Wi-Fi is so beloved underscores how critical connectivity — any form of it — is in this era of mobility. Even with 3G access, Wi-Fi has only grown in importance. A study by hotspot locator WeFi found that half of Android users consume more than 500 MB on Wi-Fi in a month and one out of every five use 2 GB per month on Wi-Fi.
Carriers that once shunned phones that connected to Wi-Fi networks now embrace them because they offer the promise of wider connectivity for users, better performance indoors and relief for overworked cellular networks.
AT&T has come to Wi-Fi religion and now touts with glee how many people are accessing their network of Wi-Fi hotspots. They’re also relying on Wi-Fi MicroCells in the home to make up for their sometimes spotty coverage.
Even with 4G coming, the road looks rosy for Wi-Fi because, while it requires someone to pay for a broadband connection, it doesn’t have the same specter of usage caps hovering above it. 3G and 4G have only so much utility if you’re minding your monthly data usage. And with the rise of phones and mobile routers that can serve as mobile hot spots, Wi-Fi is proving how its utility can be extended by working alongside cellular.
That’s partly why ABI research is forecasting half a billion Wi-Fi handsets will ship in 2014, with 90 percent of smartphones utilizing Wi-Fi. Instead of losing its importance in the era of high speed cellular networks, Wi-Fi is growing in its status as a necessity, not just a luxury.