updated 10:00 am EDT, Fri July 10, 2009
Sprint Verizon Demand WiFi
Both Sprint and Verizon have said late Thursday that they're working to add Wi-Fi to their smartphones to address a significant gap in their networks. Talking to FierceWireless, Sprint business product marketing head Jeff Clemow says his carrier decided months ago to require that all its smartphones use Wi-Fi and will soon put the requirement into effect. As a consequence, a 2010 version of the BlackBerry Tour will add Wi-Fi to the existing EVDO Rev A-based 3G it depends on so far; it only ships without due to a need to get the Tour to stores.
Verizon says it also plans to add BlackBerries with Wi-Fi at a later date but can't confirm whether or not this involves an upgraded Tour or other devices. It usually has identical devices to Sprint, however, and high-profile leaks have confirmed a BlackBerry Storm sequel with built-in Wi-Fi, mending one of the common complaints with the original touchscreen phone from RIM. A handful of other smartphones from Verizon already have Wi-Fi.
Both attitudes are at least partial reversals of attitude, particularly for Verizon. The latter has regularly insisted that Wi-Fi be stripped out of phones, including the Storm. It's widely understood that the company has previously done so to force customers into signing up for data plans or to otherwise use its services.
However, the absence of Wi-Fi iss believed to have hurt these carriers and driven some potential customers to AT&T and T-Mobile, both of whom offer phones like the BlackBerry Curve 8900 or Apple's iPhone and depend heavily on Wi-Fi as a marketing advantage. AT&T recently bought out access point provider Wayport and thousands of access points that provide free Internet use to some of its customers, particularly iPhone owners; T-Mobile's HotSpot Calling feature depends on Wi-Fi to provide unlimited calling when not on the cellular network.