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Wi-Fi equipment growth continues on a healthy pace in part due to businesses and customers purchasing the recently (relatively) approved IEEE 802.11n standard. Another driver includes more devices with embedded Wi-Fi including smartphones, netbooks and media tablets. ABI Research projects that by 2015, 94% of all smartphones will have Wi-Fi radios. Nearly 100% of all new netbooks and media tablets include Wi-Fi. Businesses continue to deploy the technology with healthcare and education the top two industries for Wi-Fi access point shipments.

But another driver which has received little fanfare for promoting Wi-Fi is the recent shift by many operators to offer limited access broadband data plans. These plans were introduced to help curb the rapid growth of mobile data traffic on cellular 3G networks. For customers on these plans, they will now be more cognizant of available Wi-Fi access rather than simply connecting only on cellular via an unlimited data plan.

This may seem like a minor addition to the many drivers supporting Wi-Fi. But it is important because cellular networks continue to improve. 4G is the latest iteration and offers average speeds on par with 802.11 b/g. IT managers now consider 4G a viable alternative/addition to Wi-Fi. Because cellular is a WAN technology, its advantage is customers have to think less if at all about where they are for access. However now with limited access mobile broadband plans, cellular is notthe panacea -customersneed to think about how much they use.

Forward thinking Wi-Fi vendors such as Cisco know that they need to move beyond a Wi-Fi only world particularly now with 4G networks imminent. While this is a good strategy since Wi-Fi will likely never be a truly WAN technology, the capacity crunch on cellular networks which ushered in limited access mobile broadband plans arrests the advances cellular was making on Wi-Fi. Not many Wi-Fi equipment vendors talk about this but they should be jumping for joy...and thanking the operators.