A World Without Wi-Fi

The Wi-Fi icon — a dot with radio waves radiating outward — glows on nearly every internet-connected device, from the iPhone to thermostats to TVs. But it’s starting to fade from the limelight.

With every major U.S. wireless carrier now offering unlimited data plans, consumers don’t need to log on to a Wi-Fi network to avoid costly overage charges anymore. That’s a critical change that threatens to render Wi-Fi obsolete. And with new competitive technologies crowding in, the future looks even dimmer.

“You could see a big switch,” said Tim Farrar, founder of Telecom Media Finance Associates Inc. “Your coffee shops may be less compelled to provide Wi-Fi for you now.”

In an all-data-you-can-eat world, consumers’ use of Wi-Fi at public places like stadiums and airports will drop to a third of all mobile data traffic from about half, Farrar estimates. This means businesses not upgrading public access Wi-Fi as often. Smartphone users might not even turn on their Wi-Fi capability, according to Barry Gilbert, an analyst at researcher Strategy Analytics in Boston.

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