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Wi-Fi, 3G thriving together, survey finds

Posted: 13 Mar 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Wi-Fi? 3G? usage survey?

Anyone looking for a winner in the seemingly eternal wireless arm wrestling between Wi-Fi and 3G is likely to be disappointed.

A survey released this week on the usage of the two wireless technologies indicates both are thriving and likely to continue to do so into the foreseeable future.

The iPass Mobile Broadband Index surveyed usage behavior across its base of more than 3,000 enterprise customers and found that business users increased their Wi-Fi hotspot usage 89 percent in 2H 07 compared with the second half of the previous year. Usage of 3G also increased, accounting for 70 percent of business cellphone connections.

"The results of our Mobile Broadband Index suggest that no single technology can meet all the needs of an enterprise workforce," said Joel Wachter, VP of marketing and strategy at iPass, in a statement. "While 3G provides broadband download speeds in domestic metropolitan areas, users need Wi-Fi hotspots for fast bi-directional access everywhere else as well as to avoid high international 3G roaming charges. We expect both Wi-Fi hotspots and 3G to continue to grow as enterprises roll out a complete toolkit to their mobile workers."

Unexpected trends
In addition to the competition between Wi-Fi and 3G, the index uncovered a number of trends, some unexpected. Europe is outpacing the United States in terms of wireless growth. Wi-Fi grew in Europe as its worldwide hotspot market share jumped from 31 percent to 40 percent, while the United States ranking dropped to 51 percent from 59 percent.

The majority of Wi-Fi hotspot usage is at U.S. airports. Some 45 percent of Wi-Fi traffic is in the terminal, though the use of Wi-Fi in hotels is surging and now accounts for 29 percent of hotspot usage, iPass found. Wi-Fi usage at train stations and ferries also is booming.

On a local scale, Wi-Fi at restaurants is the new hot space, gaining dramatically on Internet cafes, which still dominate the local scene with a 44 percent share of the market.

In surveying 3G, iPass found that businesspeople grew their use, expanding service to 190Mbytes in Q4 07up from 152Mbytes in Q1. "Usage seems to rise with experience," iPass said.

There were some very heavy users of 3G. "At the extreme, a small number of users exceeded 2Gbytes of usage in a given month," the firm stated. "These heavy users accounted for less than one half of 1 percent of all users in the sample and were offset by the 32 percent of businesspeople who used on average less than 50Mbytes in a month."

The survey found also that users of 3G sometimes had to revert to 2.5G usage, usually when they traveled beyond 3G coverage. Analysts with iPass speculated, however, that many 3G users found Wi-Fi hotspots in areas where they couldn't get 3G.

- W. David Gardner

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