[McKinsey Q] The future of the Web is up for grabs—again. It was only a few years ago that the Internet made the leap from dial-up to high-speed broadband connections. Today, another transformation looms as those wired connections give way to the possibility of a wireless Web. At the helm of this change is a fast-evolving wireless ecosystem that combines the greater speeds and higher data volumes of today’s wireless networks (such 3G-HSPA and, soon, LTE1) with the growing numbers of smart phones boasting bigger screens, better touch pads, and more processing power.
In the early 2000s, 3G technology was seen as a failure for the mobile-phone industry. By the eve of the Internet bust, companies had shelled out billions for wireless licenses, and the resulting implosion seemed to shut down any hopes (except in Japan) for the existence of a mobile Web. Today, the use of wireless data is growing rapidly and has passed a tipping point. Surveys show that two-thirds of mobile-phone owners access data on their devices—up from only one-quarter three years ago—with 60 percent using them for basic Internet browsing. Spending on smart phones, meanwhile, has soared from barely 3 percent of new-phone purchases to nearly 20 percent in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.2 Consider Austria: although the country is not usually ranked among digital hot spots such as South Korea or Finland, more new Austrian Web users are connecting via wireless data cards in their PCs and notebook computers than by wired broadband connections.
What shape will the wireless Web take?