2008 Year in Review: WiFi gains significance again

WiFi took a hit at the beginning of the year as EarthLink and MetroFi pulled the plug on their muni-WiFi initiatives, but as 2008 comes to a close, WiFi has permeated several parts of the industry. The muni-WiFi business is bouncing back in cities where network operators are working with more sensible business models that include local government anchor tenants and/or a few other high-user tenants such as colleges and medical campuses. 802.11n networks are gaining significant inroads in the enterprise, while WiFi/cellular devices are making significant inroads into the market thanks to Apple's iPhone.

Another sign of WiFi's significance comes from AT&T's recent acquisition of Wayport. Not only does the acquisition give AT&T a greater footprint but offers some cost-savings for AT&T too since Wayport had a roaming deal with AT&T to allow its subscriber base to access its hotspots. AT&T offers free WiFi to to its fixed broadband, 3G, iPhone and certain BlackBerry customers.

The bottom line: Look for operators like AT&T and T-Mobile to examine options for offering new types of consumer devices embedded with WiFi as WiFi is still faster and available in more locations than 3G. Eye-Fi, which runs on Wayport hotspots, embeds WiFi within cameras for picture downloading, and a whole host of devices, such as gaming and PC tablets embedded with WiFi can offer operators new revenue opportunities.