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Mobile Phones Spur Wi-Fi Chip Sales

Apparently, Wi-Fi didn't get the memo about the economy being in recession.

New statistics released yesterday by the industry group Wi-Fi Alliance said chipset sales grew 26 percent in 2008. That's only half of what it tallied in 2007 before the slowdown in the economy hit, but it shows that Wi-Fi networking remains robust.

"The trend today is that Wi-Fi is everywhere and people are expecting it when they buy a new mobile device or smartphone," Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director for the Alliance, told InternetNews.com.

More device vendors are including Wi-Fi in new products and mobile devices such as net books and smartphones.

The Alliance said 56 million Wi-Fi-enabled cellular phones shipped in 2008, an increase of 52 percent from 2007. The next biggest growth was within consumer electronics, such as gaming boxes and printers, with 48 million shipped, a jump of 51 percent. Sales of Wi-Fi-equipped notebook PCs and mobile Internet devices were up 23 percent in 2008 over 2007.

"We're seeing some growth contraction due to the economic headwinds but the technology continues to grow at a good rate," said Davis-Felner.

The news comes as mobility becomes a necessity for both businesses and consumers aiming to bridge lifestyle and work needs. Mobile device vendors and some wireless carriers are using Wi-Fi technology as a product differentiator to grab deeper market share and more users.

One is Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM). The smartphone vendor recently launched its second Wi-Fi BlackBerry, the Curve 8320.

Wi-Fi networks are expanding just as fast as enabled devices. The seventh-annual Wireless Security Survey last October told of dramatic growth of wireless networks in New York, London and Paris.

New security efforts, such as the Wi-Fi 802.11n draft 2.0 which the Alliance has certified, are advancing, according to the Alliance. The group that launched its Wi-Fi CERTIFIED program in March, 2000.

More than 5,000 products have been designated as Wi-Fi CERTIFIED, and over 500 consumer products feature certification, according to the group. Of the mobile PCs sold in 2008 over half supported an advanced secured generation of Wi-Fi.

"Security concerns are pretty much gone given certification programs and the ease of use in using Wi-Fi security," said Davis-Felner.

A recent poll from the Alliance, conducted by Wakefield Research, indicates 2009 will be even a bigger year for Wi-Fi. Of those polled more than half said it's unlikely they would buy a device in the future that didn't offer Wi-Fi capability. A good majority, 88 percent, reported that very soon every high-tech device they own will have Wi-Fi.

"These findings demonstrate how essential connectivity has become in our daily lives," said Davis-Felner in a press statement about the poll results. "Even when money is scarce, consumers are willing to make sacrifices in order to stay in touch with friends, family and to work and be productive online."