The Future of Wireless Internet

Portable wireless routers are gaining in popularity. What lays ahead for wireless Internet?

6 January 2011

More cellphone carriers are selling Mi-Fi devices—portable wireless routers that run off a battery. The devices can be used to connect several nearby gadgets to the Internet, with most carriers charging between US $30 and $60 per month for the service. AT&T introduced its first Mi-Fi device in November, and Sprint Nextel began selling its second that same month. Verizon, which launched its version in 2009, is now selling iPads with the Mi-Fi.

Analysts are mixed on the future of the portable Wi-Fi devices. Some say they’ll replace plug-in wireless routers as a way for cellphone carriers to charge one monthly fee to connect a customer’s computers and other gadgets. Others say the Mi-Fi devices will become unnecessary as more and more devices come installed with 3G—or 4G—chips that connect to cellular networks.

Do you think the Mi-Fi will replace wireless routers or 3G chips? What do you see as the future of wireless Internet?


Responses to October’s question

The Rise of Internet Television

More people than ever are watching TV shows online on their computers. EMarketer, which researches the Internet, estimates that 33 percent of adult Internet users in the United States watch television online each month. That number is expected to grow to about 40 percent this year and continue rising as online TV programs grow more numerous. Broadcast and cable networks post shows online for free one week after they air, and the online video service Hulu offers a variety of free shows and recently added a US $10 subscription service that supplies even more programs.

Do you watch TV online? Do you think the public will one day abandon cable or satellite TV in favor of online viewing?


Almost Perfect, Already
I recently canceled my satellite service and installed an HDTV antenna. With Hulu, TV network Web sites, the TiVo digital video recorder, and on-demand video streaming, the online TV experience is almost complete. However, it is still a little clunky hooking up my laptop to my TV and navigating a Web browser. I’m hoping that Apple TV and Google TV solve this problem.

The only services I miss are cable subscription programs from providers such as HBO. The cable and satellite monopoly still has a noncompetitive stranglehold on that content—which is stifling innovation and progress. Comcast’s purchase of NBC Universal will make things worse.

Michael A. Riepe
San Jose, Calif.


No Other Choice
I watch TV exclusively online because I live in a rural area with no broadcast signal or cable service, and satellite is very expensive. We recently started streaming videos from Hulu and Netflix.

During the past few years, I have seen steady improvement in the quality and reliability of streaming video sources, and I’m glad that Hulu and others are stabilizing their businesses. I believe this streaming trend will continue, at the expense of cable and satellite companies. The limiting factor in the United States will be the lack of a broadband infrastructure in rural areas.

Don Knull
Granite Falls, Wash.


Updates Needed
People will switch to online TV when the broadband infrastructure in the United States improves. Digital subscriber line speeds in the 3- to 5-megabyte-per-second range are marginal at best for quality online TV. And forget about trying DSL with HDTV and large TV screens. The state of broadband is embarrassing, and the costs for the services are much too high.

Reinhold Strnat
Fishers, Ind.


Works for Us
My wife and I watch TV online because we don’t have a television set. We enjoy watching programs in French, our native language. Where we live, all the broadcast programs are in German.

Paul Libbrecht
Saarbrücken, Germany


TV Will Stick Around
People will eventually abandon satellite and cable services for online TV, but it will not be the end of the television set. My family has a TV hooked up to a Blu-ray player that streams online content. We prefer to sit on the couch to stream movies or watch YouTube videos on the TV screen, rather than sit at a desk and watch a computer monitor. Still, I’d like to see more services available through the Blu-ray player. I often want to watch full episodes of certain TV programs that are only available online.

Tim Daughters
Concord, Mass.


It’s Much Cheaper
As long as network neutrality is enforced, people will watch TV online. It’s a whole lot cheaper than other TV sources. Just think what else you could do with the US $80 per month or more you now pay for cable. Such disruptive economics always cause change in an industry. I suspect cable companies will start blocking access to sites when they see it eroding their business. I have heard this is already occurring with some ESPN channels on some cable providers. If such practices are not outlawed, true competition will be at stake.

Bill Van Emburg


Service Will Change
I prefer watching my 65-inch TV, which has better sound and resolution than my small-screen computer. What is the point of having a 1-kilowatt subwoofer if I don’t use it?

Although most people will not abandon cable and satellite TV, Internet TV could motivate service providers to lower their rates. However, since most home Internet services are provided by the same companies that provide cable TV, service providers may be more likely to switch to metered Internet service. Plus, video streaming causes high data traffic. Either way, cable companies have their customers at their mercy.

Mark Kelcourse
Greensboro, N.C.

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