Study: Huge growth in Wi-Fi devices expected

In-Stat predicts that a billion consumer electronics devices will come equipped with Wi-Fi by 2012.

Embedded Wi-Fi chips could end up in almost a billion consumer electronics devices by 2012, according to market researcher In-Stat.

In-Stat said that more than 294 million consumer electronics devices with Wi-Fi shipped in 2007. But that number is quickly growing and will likely reach 1 billion by 2012. The fastest-growing embedded Wi-Fi segment is mobile handsets. By 2011, dual-mode cell phones will surpass PCs as the largest category of Wi-Fi devices, the In-Stat report said.

Several factors are driving adoption. Over the past few years, prices on Wi-Fi hardware have come way down. And the battery life for devices using Wi-Fi has improved dramatically, making it possible to embed Wi-Fi in handheld devices like cell phones. Today, many smartphones, like Apple's iPhone, come equipped with Wi-Fi.

Digital TVs also are expected to use Wi-Fi in the future, the report said. Today only a handful of TVs are capable of connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi.

Ethernet is currently the preferred method for attaching TVs to the Internet, according to my colleague David Katzmaier who reviews TVs for CNET. The main reason is that streaming video over Wi-Fi is buggy. Ethernet is simply more reliable. The other issue is there isn't a lot of content that can be streamed from the Internet to TVs. That could soon change as services like Hulu, Netflix, and Youtube will likely be integrated into some TVs starting next year.

That said, wireless technology could be used to connect TVs to various devices like set-top boxes and DVD players in an effort to eliminate cords. The only cord needed would be the power cord.

But when you're talking at such short distances, Bluetooth is another technology that could be used. Katzmaier isn't aware of Bluetooth integrated into TVs today, but he said he could see it being used for things like wireless surround speakers and remote controls. It could even be used to integrate cell phones into the TV experience, such as providing caller-ID on TV screens.

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