Wi-Fi Smartphone Shipments Continue to Grow

Earlier this year, ABI Research predicted that dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi handset shipments were set to double between 2008 and 2010. It would seem that their crystal ball was accurate. In a press release issued today, ABI said its analysts have confirmed that 2009 shipments are on track to reach 144 million handsets shipped, with forecasts for 2011 at just over 300 million.

iPhone continues to dominate the smartphone market, but according to a brand new study from JiWire (full details coming Monday), RIM’s Wi-Fi-enabled BlackBerries, including the 8120, 8820, and 9530, as well as the Palm Pre and the Nokia N-95 are popular with consumers using Wi-Fi from their mobile phones.

“The picture may be unique to each carrier, but in the end Wi-Fi can offer most operators those two key benefits: extended reach and/or network load reduction,” said analyst Michael Morgan in the ABI release.

Morgan pointed out that some carriers have more readily embraced 802.11 in their handsets. “Verizon has not enthusiastically embraced Wi-Fi in its handsets, while AT&T has. AT&T was thrown into the pool by the iPhone. Previously people did access data, but the iPhone led people to use Wi-Fi to a degree never seen before. Traditionally cautious Verizon hasn’t been thrown into that situation yet, but they are warming up to Wi-Fi,” he said.

San Francisco-based Wireless vendor, Meraki, which also operates a large, free Wi-Fi network in its home city, recently issued its first “Wireless Census,” a study that compared activity seen by a single set of randomly selected Meraki Wi-Fi access points in North America in 2008 and 2009 in order to understand macro-level traffic and end-user device trends.

Apple devices (including laptops and iPod touch) grew by 221 percent; they now represent 32 percent of all the devices seen by this set of Meraki access points in North America, compared to just 14 percent in 2008.

Despite Apple’s dominance, the popularity of Wi-Fi is definitely not limited to AT&T customers or to iPhone users–and it is growing by leaps and bounds.

“Wi-Fi’s penetration into handsets has more momentum than the bad economy,” said Morgan. “It has become a must-have item much as Bluetooth did earlier.”

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet.com. She recently reviewed the Wi-Fi-enabled T-Mobile Dash 3G.

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