In 1999, wireless technology carried data at a rate of 11 megabits per second. Today the most advanced devices can deliver up to one gigabit per second, a thousand times as much data than predecessors were capable of transmitting some 15 years ago.
During that time, the Wi-Fi Alliance has grown from a group of six member companies to nearly 650 working collaboratively to develop and validate multivendor Wi-Fi interoperability. The alliance has certified over 22,000 products; 4,000 of those have been mobile phone and tablet devices. The alliance estimates 25 percent of households currently use Wi-Fi and forecasts annual Wi-Fi device sales could reach 4 billion units globally by 2020.
"Wi-Fi has significantly improved the lives of people and societies all over the world over the last 15 years, but we are just getting started," said Greg Ennis, Wi-Fi Alliance Vice President of Technology. "Wi-Fi and other technologies from Wi-Fi Alliance will be front and center for many years to come, connecting people and things in ways we can only imagine today."
With the advent of Wi-Fi direct, device-to-device connectivity and access to Wi-Fi hotspots, mobile device users today encounter fewer connectivity restrictions than in the past. As more consumers carry out financial activities on mobile devices, transaction values have steadily risen. ABI Research Inc. calculated the value of transactions executed on mobile handsets and tablets would total $1.8 trillion in 2014.
Charting what lies ahead on the technology road map, the Wi-Fi Alliance anticipates whole new segments and applications will emerge. Among them will be new frequency bands that deliver the right connection based on range of distance. As the Internet of Things continues to evolve, Wi-Fi will connect new types of devices to each other and the Internet. With the power to connect all things, power-saving mechanisms will fit into the future picture as well.
Gartner Inc. estimated global mobile device sales would total 1.2 billion units in 2014. In tracking third quarter 2014 smartphone sales, emerging markets exhibited some of the highest smartphone sales growth rates ever recorded, according to Gartner. Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa each posted nearly 50 percent year-over-year increases, while the United States saw the largest growth among mature markets, tracked at 18.9 percent year-over-year.
"In the emerging economies, users are adopting smartphones as their exclusive mobile devices, while in developed economies, multidevice households are becoming the norm, with tablets growing at the fastest rate of any computing device," Gartner stated in its research findings.
Gartner projected that by 2018, over 50 percent of electronic device users will go to a tablet or smartphone first for all online activities. "The use pattern that has emerged for nearly all consumers, based on device accessibility, is the smartphone first as a device that is carried when mobile, followed by the tablet that is used for longer sessions, with the PC increasingly reserved for more-complex tasks," said Van Baker, Research Vice President at Gartner.
Baker also believes that as wearable device availability expands, consumer activities on mobile devices will migrate accordingly. Similarly, as voice, gesture and other modalities gain in popularity; and as content consumption begins to outweigh content creation as a task, further transition from PCs to other devices for mobile activities is expected.
Gartner also expects 40 percent of all enterprises to select Wi-Fi as their default connection for nonmobile devices by 2018. One significant reason for this trend revolves around security measures undertaken, such as 802.1X authentication reinforced by the Advanced Encryption Standard, which was broadly introduced via Wi-Fi technology and has reported no serious break-ins, according to Gartner.
Gartner also predicted that biometric sensors will be featured in 40 percent of smartphones shipped by 2016, and fingerprint authentication will be the primary choice for end users. Use of other forms of biometric authentication involving facial, iris, voice and palm vein recognition will remain relatively rare. And with the availability of low-cost smartphones in emerging markets, 78 percent of global sales could come from developing economies by 2018.
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