Wi-Fi has come to the mobile phone, and people all over the world are taking advantage of the faster speeds to access the Net from their phones.
According to AdMob, a mobile advertising marketplace, mobile Internet usage on Wi-Fi picked up steam in January in the U.S. and Europe. Worldwide Internet requests originating from Wi-Fi hot spots increased 8 percent month over month to 6.8 billion, led by double digit growth in Western Europe and Asia, AdMob said in a recent study.
In Europe, Wi-Fi access on a mobile phone increased by 132 percent over the past year with the biggest growth coming from Spain and Italy. And in the U.S., mobile phone subscribers in the West and Northeast were the heaviest Wi-Fi users, AdMob said. California led the pack, generating 18 percent of overall mobile Wi-Fi traffic in January. New York took second place with 14 percent. And Texas generated 8 percent of the mobile Wi-Fi traffic.
New devices, such as Apple's iPhone, are driving much of this growth. Even though the latest version of the iPhone operates over a 3G cellular network, these speeds are still slow compared to accessing the Net from a Wi-Fi hot spot. And when Wi-Fi is available, it looks like consumers choose the Wi-Fi network over the 3G network.
The faster speeds mean that mobile users often get a better surfing experience. So more mobile Wi-Fi usage is good news for advertisers looking to break into the mobile market.
But on the flip side, more mobile users who access the Net from Wi-Fi hotspots might be a problem for wireless operators. When consumers access the Internet through Wi-Fi hotspots, they aren't using the carrier network. And for carriers who charge based on data usage, this means they are losing out on revenue.
Some mobile operators, such as Verizon Wireless, are simply not offering popular phones with Wi-Fi. In November, Verizon launched the new BlackBerry Storm, which doesn't have Wi-Fi. This fact has been a major complaint of many consumers. And it might have hurt adoption, prompting some potential customers to buy Apple's iPhone instead. The iPhone is exclusively available in the U.S. on AT&T's network.
But given the fact that Wi-Fi hot spots aren't ubiquitous, users still need some kind of cellular data plan to get Internet access everywhere. What's more, carriers in the U.S. typically require customers who buy these Wi-Fi-enabled phones, like the iPhone, to also subscribe to a monthly "unlimited" data plan. So even if subscribers are using a free Wi-Fi hot spot, they're still paying their mobile operator about $30 a month for access to the 3G cellular network.