For years, the tech industry tried to kill Ethernet with newer and more innovative technologies but Ethernet kept evolving to meet and exceed the challenge. In fact now the replacement of T1s and T3s with Ethernet is common. Although not exactly analogous, I always think of WiFi as similar to Ethernet in that it continues to evolve to take on technologies such as WiMAX, LTE and other next generation networks.
Certainly anyone who has used a municipal WIFi solution which works well knows you can somewhat replace cellular providers in this manner. I say somewhat because coverage of WiFi in metropolitan areas is generally more spotty than current 3G networks.
Still, the technology is promising and is getting better. One WiFi network I have raved about in the past is Cablevision's Optimum WiFi - I have used it throughout New York and Connecticut and it has always been quite helpful. Recently, Comcast, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable have launched a roaming agreement making all three networks that much better.
To learn more about our WiFi future I interviewed Edgar Figueroa the CEO of the WiFi Alliance and learned there will be over 800 million WiFi-enabled devices shipped this year - a truly staggering amount. Moreover this number will hit one-billion next year.
I pressed Figueroa on if he felt WiFi will be a replacement technology for 4G and he repeatedly (and I mean repeatedly as I pestered the poor guy) told me the two technologies will be complimentary and that WiFi networks can be quite valuable to carriers as an offload network.
In addition, Figueroa says 802.11N will take over 90% of the market soon and the new WiFi Direct standard will be a true cable replacement for USB, RGB, VGA and just about everything else. The technology formerly known as WiFi Peer-to-Peer has a simpler name but still allows p2p sharing. Another benefit of this standard is being able to more easily connect disparate devices without the need for a central access point.
Another amazing nugget: the consumer electronics world will be a full 25-33% of the WiFi market soon.
Some areas where the alliance is looking are the smart grid, M2M and television white spaces. Interestingly the cellular companies too are looking at the first two of these areas and perhaps WiFi will be complimentary in these places as well.
There was a point in time when small hard disks were complimentary to large enterprise-class hard drives which were much more expensive to deploy. Eventually technology evolved to the point where RAID allowed these inexpensive drives to be combined to provide a more reliable solution than large drives at a fraction of the cost. I am not saying this will happen in the world of WiFi but as long as I have studied and been involved in the tech markets; History has always repeated itself. I doubt this time will be any different.