Wi-Fi Could Pay Off for BlackBerry Storm 2

If reports are true, Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) and Verizon are on tap this fall to release a new version of the BlackBerry Storm sporting Wi-Fi connectivity, a feature fueling smartphone growth and increasingly relied upon to bypass expensive data plan fees used for mobile multimedia.

Both Verizon Wireless and RIM declined to comment on a report by SlashGear that the “Storm 2” would be getting a Wi-Fi makeover. Still, a move to improve on the original Storm, which lacked Wi-Fi, could prove lucrative if current trends continue.

For instance, a recent report by ABI Research on behalf of the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry association that includes RIM, shows consumers view Wi-Fi as a “must-have” feature for mobile handsets.

Ed Figueroa, director of the alliance, told InternetNews.com that “seventy-seven percent of the mobile phone users out there say they want Wi-Fi on their next handset, and that three-fourths of the people who have Wi-Fi now on their smartphones use it regularly.”

He added that Wi-Fi is fueling smartphone growth, as users of phones with the feature say they like their phone twice as much as those who have phones without Wi-Fi.

That might be one reason that the number of smartphones with Wi-Fi will increase to 90 percent by 2014, up from the 44 percent of smartphones that currently have the feature, according to ABI.

Wi-Fi wins over carrier data?

One factor in consumers’ growing interest in getting Wi-Fi on their phones is cost-savings, compared to wireless carriers’ data plans. While consumers are feeling the recessionary pinch and looking to cut costs, carriers are employing stricter data terms in their plans. For instance, AT& T recently updated its DataConnect terms, outlining charges for users’ exceeding their monthly data allotments and stating that unused data will not carry over to the next month.

Such developments are likely to continue limiting the effectiveness of carriers’ wireless data plans, according to a recent report by Juniper Research‘s Windsor Holden.

“While operators have made significant strides in reducing the costs of bundled data, the overwhelming majority of mobile users are prepaid customers who want to sample mobile Internet usage before committing to a bundle,” Holden wrote. “And in most cases, data costs are so high that they act as a disincentive to such initial usage.”

While RIM’s plans for any future changes to the storm remain uncertain, the company’s busily working to rev up its appeal to consumers in other areas. Last month, the company opened its BlackBerry App World in an effort to try to stem the growth of Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone.

Last week, RIM also posted impressive earnings for the third quarter, beating estimates across the board — with at least some credit going to the BlackBerry Storm, which debuted in September.

At the same time, RIM’s rivals aren’t sitting still, either. A slew of new devices are expected to come out this year, including new T-Mobile phones based on the Google Android mobile operating software, Palm’s Pre on Sprint and a rumored new iPhone on AT&T.

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