WiFi iPod boon to public WiFi networks

WiFi iPod boon to public WiFi networks
Apple's new WiFi-enabled iPod--iPod Touch--is a boon to public WiFi networks and the beginning of the vision that Sprint Nextel has for embedding WiMAX chips in devices beyond laptops and smartphones.

As Jupiter Research analyst Ina Sebastian notes on the company's analyst weblog, WiFi-enabled iPods are the long-awaited device that goes beyond WiFi-enabled laptops. So far, consumer electronics companies have dabbled in embedding chips in gaming devices. Sony Computer Entertainment America began a promotion in April that involves offering a new firmware upgrade for its PlayStation Portable (PSP) system, called version 3.30, to enable PSP users to play games online, browse the Internet and download podcasts on all 7,000 of T-Mobile USA's hotspots for free for six months. After the six months are over, T-Mobile will offer PSP owners an option to purchase a subscription at a special rate. As Sebastian says, this is a niche application that appeals to young consumers.

An iPod coupled with WiFi-enabled music applications, however, take public WiFi mainstream, Sebastian says. The iPod Touch offers the same selection and pricing as its desktop counterpart, and Apple has teamed with Starbucks, where users will receive free access to the iTunes Store over the in-store WiFi.

The move bodes well for WiMAX too. Sprint will soon enter unfamiliar territory by moving away from selling subsidized devices that are tied to service contracts through its own distribution channel to relying on a number of consumer electronic companies to embed WiMAX chips in their products for sale directly to the end user. Sprint and other WiMAX proponents envision a day when WiFi/WiMAX chips are embedded in a plethora of devices, such as digital cameras and gaming devices, once the technology matures. WiFi will serve as the primer for this notion. 

According to Bernard Aboussouan, vice president of marketing and development at WiMAX chipmaker Sequans, the company is seeing interest from consumer electronics companies such as digital camera makers in embedding WiMAX chips, but their complaint is that WiFi hasn't even made inroads yet.

"There is definite interest in this market, but the real test will be what the customer wants," Aboussouan said. Certainly WiFi will play a valuable role in determining that.--Lynnette