For years, "Wi-Fi" has been synonymous with "wireless" for the majority of laptop users looking to connect on the go.
Recently, mobile broadband - the kind of wireless you use for surfing the Internet and doing e-mail on your mobile phone - has been growing fast. A study from comScore, for example, found that mobile broadband use rose by 154 per cent in 2007.
Some observers, most recently Ericsson Chief Marketing Officer Johan Bergendahl, predicted that Wi-Fi will go the way of the analog modem to be replaced by mobile broadband. Others disagree.
Will mobile broadband kill Wi-Fi and replace it? The answer is no. An exciting new wireless model is suddenly emerging that combines mobile broadband and Wi-Fi to get the advantages of both.
Mobile broadband gives you far more places where you can connect, enabling Internet access just about anywhere your mobile phone can make calls. Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is often easier and connects to a larger number of devices.
Wi-Fi is traditionally used to enable nearby users to connect to a home DSL or cable net connection, or a business T1 line or other cabled, non-wireless connection via the company network. But a new generation of products is hanging that Wi-Fi access point on the end of a mobile broadband connection.
Who's combining mobile broadband with Wi-Fi?
Chrysler announced this week that it will add in-car Wi-Fi as a standard feature on some models. Car owners will need a mobile broadband connection (billed separately), and electronics in the car radios will open that connection to other devices in and near the car via Wi-Fi.
New software called WalkingHotspot, unveiled last week by TapRoot Systems, enables owners of Symbian S60 or Windows Mobile smart phones to share their 3G connection with nearby devices via Wi-Fi.
A line of products from iBox2Go launched in January provides mobile broadband connectivity to the Internet, plus a Wi-Fi router that enables up to 10 users to share the connection.
The CradlePoint PHS300 Personal Hotspot is a little box that you connect to your phone to create your own Wi-Fi network. A new software update issued this week extends support to include EV-DO and HSDPA devices.
All these products are new, and all involve the use of Wi-Fi to share a mobile broadband connection. A trend? Absolutely, and one that points to a new way to use your mobile phone.