New adventures in Mi-Fi

10 Jun 2010

Not only has Steve Jobs built Apple into a company that, with a war chest of $23bn in cash reserves, could – if it wanted to – buy half of Nokia or all of Motorola, but he has also effectively reinvented mobile data usage.

Never mind that the iPhone has transformed the mobile phone and has every mobile manufacturer following suit with eerily similar touchscreen devices. Never mind that the iPad is going to lead to a sea change in how we interact with computers and consume information. What Jobs has to answer for will be burgeoning demand for wireless data on the move.

Mobile networks are licking their lips in anticipation, not only of sales of dedicated 3G-based iPads or the latest incarnation of the iPhone, but also rising demand for broadband outside of the home.

As well as increasing demand for faster 3G or 3.5G speeds from operators who are increasing wireless data speeds to up to 14.4Mbps, users will also begin to bring their Wi-Fi networks with them. Over the next two years, more and more users will equip themselves with devices that will allow them to create wireless networks around them – welcome to the era of Mi-Fi.

With Jobs’ announcement earlier this week of the iPhone 4, he unveiled a new mobile video conferencing service on the iPhone 4 called Facetime, which is designed to work only within Wi-Fi networks. Meanwhile, the iPad will arrive in Ireland next month in two distinct flavours – with Wi-Fi only or
with 3G and Wi-Fi. In the UK, the 3G version has consumers reeling at the £700 sterling price tag, and canny buyers are going for the Wi-Fi only version, which is £270 sterling cheaper, and then are looking at tethering options. Tethering means connecting your computer, a laptop or a tablet like an iPad to the internet using another mobile device as a modem.

But, with new modem technologies, users can go further to create their own Wi-Fi networks on the move.

Vodafone Broadband in a Box

This week, Vodafone is unveiling a new fixed and mobile broadband product called Vodafone Broadband in a Box. The fixed modem can be used as a home gateway in your home but can also become portable with mobile broadband. The product, which costs €54.99 a month, comes with a 10GB mobile data-usage limit and a 40GB fixed-usage limit.

Vodafone’s director of consumer affairs Stefano Gastaut explains: “Most consumers aren’t interested in the technology, they just want something simple. They want to go home and have a wireless network around them, but now the trend will go in the direction of bringing that network with you.”

No doubt, as we navigate our way through a sea of Apple hype in the coming weeks, one thing is certain: Apple won’t have the tablet market or the smartphone market entirely to itself.

Google has already overtaken the iPhone in the US with its Android smartphone and Samsung is coming out with its Android-based tablet computer, the Galaxy.

Mobile operators and consumers, meanwhile, will be wise to consider the oncoming Mi-Fi revolution.

Photo: The iPhone 4

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years