Are We Running Out of WiFi?

Too many devices, too little space

Imagine there's no wifi -- it isn't hard to do.

OK, it's actually probably darn near impossible to do.  After all, if you're reading this in a coffeeshop, or on a smartphone, or anywhere besides work, chances are pretty decent that you're on a wifi network right now.  But, and this comes from no less trustworthy a source than Cisco Systems, we may be in for a wifi shortage.  There are just that many devices, and not all that much space in the spectrum.

When it comes to devices, you know all about the smartphones, iPads, and laptops roaming around everywhere these days.  It's a rare coffee shop that doesn't buzz with wifi activity at all hours of the day and night. Now that Starbucks, too, will bring free wifi to all of its stores, the spectrum will be taxed even more.

Cisco, which itself has a stake in wifi usage, says smartphones use 30 times as much data as regular phones.  That's a lot of browsing, video watching, shopping, and stock checking.  And with 1.7 million iPhones alone selling in the last week, your favorite coffeeshop is swarming with even more wifi usage than before.

Speaking of iPhones, you don't have to look any further than the latest iPhone release to see the effects.  With an estimated 1100 people (I among them) in Moscone Center for the WWDC iPhone 4 demo, Apple CEO Steve Jobs himself couldn't get a wifi connection to show off his company's new phone.  You could see the frustration on his face; those of us in the audience knew exactly what he was going through.  We've all had times when wifi connections were flighty, even impossible to lock down.

Are we using too much of the available spectrum?  Can wifi grow to fit our gadget-loving needs?  We're certainly going to buy more.  But unless we increase the amount of wifi out there, we're all in for more Jobs-like moments in the future.

Scott is probably on wifi right this moment.  He's also on Twitter:  @scottbudman

Contact Us