Last December, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced survey results that consumers would rather kick their coffee habit than give up Wi-Fi. This year, it appears consumers have added another expendable favorite beverage – beer – to the list. According to a survey conducted by the Wi-Fi Alliance and Wakefield Research, 90% of college students said Wi-Fi access is as essential to education as classrooms and computers, and if forced to choose, almost half would give up beer before Wi-Fi.
The study also found that three in five wouldn’t even go to a college that didn’t offer free Wi-Fi. Of the respondents, 73% said Wi-Fi helps them get better grades – something beer probably couldn’t do. Students are accessing Wi-Fi outside of the classroom or library as well. Of the 500 college students surveyed, 55% also accessed Wi-Fi in a coffee shop or restaurant, 47% in the park and 24% in their cars. The availability of Wi-Fi at these types of locations influenced whether a student would even go there.
While many universities have had Wi-Fi access on campus for several years now, 802.11n is changing the game, according to Kelly Davis, marketing director at the Wi-Fi Alliance, a global non-profit comprised of 300 companies. She said that the performance capabilities and range and benefits of the updated Wi-Fi standard are enabling the Wi-Fi market to really take off. The Wi-Fi Alliance certification program, introduced in 2000, has now certified more than 4,800 products on 802.11n, including digital cameras, PDAs, mobile phones and other handheld consumer devices.
In keeping with the beverage comparisons, Davis said that Wi-Fi is like water. There will be locations where a free water fountain is available, but other places you will have to – or want to – pay for it. In business environments, it is still largely pay for play, whereas coffee shops and similar hang-out spots are using Wi-Fi as a differentiator by making it free for consumers.
At the collegiate level, ABI Research expects to see Wi-Fi penetration in U.S. universities at 99% by 2013. The research firm also found that Wi-Fi equipment revenue in the global higher education market will reach $837 million by 2013, up from $137 million in 2007.
“802.11n is absolutely the future of Wi-Fi and is very compelling for anybody trying to do a large deployment and accommodate a lot of users,” Davis said.
As a generation that grew up with Wi-Fi access as part of their daily lives, those entering college have come to consider free Wi-Fi the norm. As has been the trend in most technologies, where Generation Y goes, the rest of the industry usually follows. College campuses should prove to be the best testing ground to really try the limits of 802.11n. With a group of thousands of highly mobile, diverse and spread out students who expect coverage everywhere – whether in the dorm or in a remote area of the quad – the environment is highly different than the enterprise. Free, ubiquitous Wi-Fi may not decrease drinking on college campuses, but if it can meet students’ expectations of fast, easy connectivity anywhere and on any Internet-connected device, Wi-Fi’s track record of success will continue past graduation.