Apparently there’s no such thing as too much wireless broadband. Even as WiMAX deployments are picking up pace, Wi-Fi is enjoying renewed enthusiasm with both carriers and retailers extending free access to consumers at wireless hotspots. AT&T arguably started the trend back in 2007 by providing free Wi-Fi to select DSL subscribers, but the Wi-Fi love has now moved far beyond the telecom giant. Last year Starbucks started offering free Wi-Fi time to anyone with a Starbucks card, and in the last six months Cablevision, Comcast, and Quest have all jumped on the free Wi-Fi bandwagon. This week Verizon said it would also tack on free Wi-Fi at Boingo hotspots for home broadband subscribers, and Barnes and Noble joined the party with free Wi-Fi access for all customers.
All of this free Wi-Fi comes just as 4G mobile broadband is also spreading in the US. Clearwire has three markets launched (all with Motorola equipment), with a promise of ten by the year’s end, and Comcast is right on the carrier’s heels with Portland launched last month, and Atlanta open for business just this week.
As I’ve said before, all this means is that Wi-Fi and 4G services will likely play complementary roles in the consumer broadband market for several years to come. Wi-Fi becomes a basic service for retaining customers (retail and subscriber), while 4G mobile broadband becomes the premium-grade moneymaker. I can certainly live with that.