A new report from the mobile advertising company Admob says that 42 percent of iPhone Internet requests came from Wi-Fi hot spots rather than AT&T's 3G wireless network in November. This is quite a bit higher than most Wi-Fi capable phones, which typically average about 10 to 20 percent.
Several bloggers say they think iPhone users are gravitating toward Wi-Fi more because AT&T's 3G network is not up to snuff. Om Malik at GigaOm said AT&T's 3G service was as unpredictable as Lindsay Lohan's mood.
But I don't really think that is the issue. Personally, I haven't had many problems accessing the data network from my iPhone in New York City. I have had dropped calls. But for the most part, whether I'm on Wi-Fi or AT&T's 3G network, downloading e-mail or accessing the Web from my phone works pretty well.
I think there are two reasons why iPhone users are opting for Wi-Fi when it's available. And these reasons could provide some interesting lessons for phone manufacturers and wireless carriers.
For one, accessing a Wi-Fi access point on the iPhone is easy. I have Wi-Fi access turned on on my phone. Whenever I fire up the browser or download e-mail, a list of available networks pops up. If I'm home or in a network I've already been on, most times the phone will automatically connect via Wi-Fi instead of the 3G network. I don't have to really think about it. It just happens. So most times, as a user, I'm not consciously deciding to use Wi-Fi or not.
But whether I choose a Wi-Fi network or not, downloads from the Wi-Fi network are noticeably faster, which is why I have the Wi-Fi option turned on in the first place.
So what does this really mean for wireless operators? I think it's pretty obvious. Wireless users want fast networks, especially when they're using a device like the iPhone, which is made for the Internet. They want to browse Web pages and download e-mails quickly. If Wi-Fi is the fastest network available, then people will use it. If AT&T is able to significantly increase the speeds on its network, which the company promises it will do soon, then people will use that network.
I also think Admob's findings might serve as a cautionary signal to Verizon Wireless, which has opted not to support Wi-Fi on some of its hottest phones, such as the BlackBerry Storm. Verizon said the Storm, which is a touch screen smartphone that competes head-to-head with the iPhone, didn't include Wi-Fi support because it would eat up too much battery life and make the device too bulky.
But I think the lack of Wi-Fi may prove to be a negative for the Strorm, as it could be one factor that pushes some consumers toward the iPhone, if they're considering both devices. The thing is I'm not really sure why Verizon is resisting Wi-Fi. It's true that a device with Wi-Fi capability may access free hot spots rather than the 3G cellular network, but since AT&T and Verizon Wireless require customers sign up for data plans when they purchase these devices, I don't see the carriers really losing any money if consumers use free Wi-Fi hot spots for data downloads. In fact, the carriers may actually benefit from their customers using Wi-Fi more, because it puts less strain on their wireless data networks.
The real issue could be that Verizon is afraid of voice over IP services like Skype and Truphone, which allow users to bypass the carrier network to make free and low-cost phone calls.