Enjoy Wi-Fi while you can, because the end is near. That prediction was made Monday by Ericsson's chief marketing officer, Johan Bergendahl.
The comment came in his keynote speech to the European Computer Audit, Control and Security Conference in Stockholm. According to news reports, he said Wi-Fi hot spots -- in places like Starbucks -- will become as outdated as telephone booths faster than many people think. He added that mobile broadband is growing faster than mobile or fixed telephony did.
Eclipsing Fixed Broadband in Austria
Bergendahl said that in Austria, mobile broadband is expected to eclipse fixed broadband this year, and the most popular phone in Sweden is a USB modem. He also pointed out that countries such as Austria, Denmark and Sweden offer mobile-broadband subscriptions for the equivalent of about $30 a month.
Bill Ho, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said price is the key from the consumer's point of view. "The throughput of Wi-Fi is better" than mobile broadband, he said, but it's often less secure. Mobile broadband is more widespread, but most consumers will make a choice based on advantages versus price.
Ericsson, of course, has a vested interest in this near-term scenario, since it is a key manufacturer of sections of the mobile-broadband infrastructure. For instance, the company has an agreement to put HSPA 3G technology into several Lenovo computers, a trend that is increasing. In his speech, Bergendahl predicted that HSPA will be as common within a few years as Wi-Fi is today.
International Roaming, Coverage
But even Bergendahl acknowledges that hurdles remain. He mentioned the problem of international roaming, which will involve cooperation between carriers.
Coverage, of course, is also a key area for improvement. One example was the room where Bergendahl gave his speech. It had no 3G coverage.
Some observers contend that Bergendahl is misreading Wi-Fi's role in the realm of connectivity.
They note that fixed Wi-Fi serves a purpose by providing a stable, high-quality connection at places where people are likely to sit and, perhaps, watch a video. As a comparison, in a world full of cell phones there still are phone booths and hard-wired phones. Others note that Wi-Fi helps to offset bandwidth load on mobile-broadband networks.
Ho agrees that Wi-Fi still has a purpose. "Wi-Fi will probably continue to be around for a while," he said, pointing out that some carriers, such as T-Mobile, are relying on Wi-Fi until their own mobile-broadband networks are fully implemented.