If Mobile Carriers Don't Address Demand for Wi-Fi, Ad-Supported Services Will

[qi:___wifi] Mobile network operators must find better — and cheaper — ways of incorporating Wi-Fi access into their data plans, according to a new study conducted by two companies with skin in the game. The study from mobile broadband gateway provider Stoke and international Wi-Fi access provider Trustive found that more than 64 percent of the 300 business users polled said they use Wi-Fi for data roaming — apparently favoring the technology over cellular access — and 42 percent of respondents said they plan their Wi-Fi usage in advance of traveling so they know where and how they can access the Internet.

And price is largely driving their decisions about how they access the web. An overwhelming 86 percent of the 300 business users polled said price was the most important factor in selecting a Wi-Fi access provider, and 72 percent of respondents paid for their own Wi-Fi access.

Meanwhile, the survey also found nearly two-thirds of users relied on being connected, with 65 percent of respondents accessing the network when they need to download materials rather than carry their information with them. That demand — coupled with the rise in Wi-Fi usage due to the traction of WiFi-enabled phones — indicates a need for mobile operators to embrace the technology more effectively in their data plans, said Barry Hill, vice president of sales and marketing for Stoke.

“The survey demonstrates widespread dissatisfaction with mobile operators,” Hill said in a prepared statement. “On the plus side, it indicates that due to high and unpredictable data roaming charges, Wi-Fi is the wireless broadband preference for workers when traveling. Users expect operators to bundle affordable worldwide Wi-Fi access together with cellular data plans. Increasingly, they will select operators based on the mixed wireless access experience.”

But the figures also highlight the opportunities that exist in using free Wi-Fi as a marketing tool, as Stacey and Om pointed out yesterday. Business users feel they must be connected as often as possible wherever they travel, but are footing the bills themselves. If carriers can’t find ways to deliver data plans that incorporate Wi-Fi for road warriors, many ad-supported services such as those funded by sponsors like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo will try to meet that demand.