Kindle and Wi-Fi

WhereIsMyWiFi We are surprised that specifications for the Kindle DX include no mention of a Wi-Fi radio. We were not anticipating that a Wi-Fi radio would replace the cellular radio. Rather we were expecting that the two radios might coexist side-by-side.

A recent article at SFGate headlines: Why not a cheaper Wi-Fi-only Kindle? The article’s theme is that the Kindle’s price could likely be reduced by by eliminating the cellular radio and its associated service cost. The answer to the headline’s question is likely that Amazon is seeking a user experience that could not currently be provided by a Wi-Fi radio. Recent informal demographic estimates, developed at the Kindle Culture blog and elsewhere, suggest that the existing Kindle user base is largely older and majority female. This sounds to us like a demographic that may be especially appreciative of configuration-free operation. The Kindle’s existing wireless is fully operational out of the box with no configuration. We geeky types sometimes forget that subscribing to internet service, configuring a Wi-Fi router, enabling WPA security, and entering passwords are hardly inexpensive and intuitive tasks.

For current Kindles, Amazon’s Whispernet service is provided through the Sprint US cellular network. Sprint’s geographic coverage, both CDMA and EVDO, is actually quite impressive. However, Sprint’s coverage is far from universal and is especially spotty in parts of the US northwest. In addition, Sprint’s network has no international coverage. Thus a Wi-Fi radio could be of great benefit to Kindle users in many rural areas and to users who travel internationally. Such a Wi-Fi radio could be disabled by default to retain the existing Kindle’s user experience and battery life.

The marginal cost of the needed electronic components for a low power Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11-g) radio manufactured at the Kindle‚Äôs volumes is currently very roughly at around $5.00 per unit, meaning that such a capability would likely add less than $25 to a Kindle’s sales price. Based on teardowns of the Kindle 2, we expect that Amazon has the technical ability to add Wi-Fi at any time to updated versions of either the Kindle 2 or Kindle DX, possibly by changing an integrated wireless daughter card and an internal antenna at the time of manufacture.

We are guessing – and hoping – that the next major Kindle news from Amazon will involve international availability. This will almost certainly require new Kindle models configured with TDMA/GPRS cellular radios, and it is possible that some international markets could be best addressed with Wi-Fi radios exclusively.

The addition of Wi-Fi radios to Kindles for the US market is purely speculative on our part, but Amazon may soon be under competitive pressure to offer such a feature. Thus far, Amazon seems to be doing a good job of positioning and executing to stay a step or two ahead of its e-reader competition.