More and more cell phones are incorporating Wi-Fi connectivity. According to a recent ABI Research survey, 44% of the current crop of smart phones currently has built-in Wi-Fi. ABI expects this percentage to grow to 90% by 2014. The study also found that 77% of users of Wi-Fi enabled phones are completely or very satisfied with their device. Furthermore, 74% of those who have Wi-Fi on their handset use it, and 77% say they will seek Wi-Fi as an option on their next phone.

The question is why Wi-Fi is such a hot item on new phones, especially since you can get e-mail and Internet access via the cellular network, especially if you have a 3G phone. The answer is that Wi-Fi offers a broader and richer mobile experience if you have that alternative link capability. Because of Wi-Fi’s superior data rates, you can do more with it. It’s usually more satisfying when surfing the Web, playing games, sharing photos, or downloading music and videos.

“Consumers and business people alike are attracted to Wi-Fi enabled phones because they deliver a great multimedia experience and have reset user expectations for handset features,” said Edgar Figueroa, Executive Director of the Wi-Fi Alliance. “The wide variety of exciting Wi-Fi enabled smart phones on the market today is testament to how useful Wi-Fi is in propelling handsets from phones to true multimedia devices.”

As for benefits to the carriers, Wi-Fi helps offload the network of high-data-rate traffic and conserve licensed spectrum while delivering a rich multimedia experience. It can also help retain subscribers by improving indoor coverage where cellular coverage is poor.

According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, there is a current installed base of Wi-Fi enabled handsets of 102 million, with 90 million shipped in 2008 and 300 million expected in 2011. To date, the Wi-Fi Alliance has certified 311 handsets with Wi-Fi. Check out the listing at www.wi-fi.org.

I have Wi-Fi on my original iPhone and use it instead of the slower EDGE network e-mail connection. It quickly picks up nearby hotspots and access points to log into. It is a great alternative, meaning you can be connected to anything all the time. (That’s not a good thing, is it?)

A few additions are coming to the Wi-Fi 802.11 standard. Look for the peer-to-peer or device-to-device feature that lets two Wi-Fi enabled devices talk directly to one another for playing games, sharing music, printing a picture directly from the camera, or displaying pictures from the phone on a TV set. A mesh networking feature is also in the works.