Smartphone Wi-Fi Usage on the Rise


A report from hotspot locator WeFi will be released this week showing key metrics in mobile data consumption across platforms. Laptops and netbooks go through a lot of data over Wi-Fi hotspots, as you’d expect, but the report suggests smartphone owners are using hotspots instead of 3G in increasing numbers. With the recent surge in WiFi-enabled smartphones, WeFi’s report shows an uptick in smartphone data consumption, much of it by users on the Android platform (s goog). However, the data is limited by the absence of a major player in the smartphone arena.

WeFi is a hotspot location service that works on netbook, laptop, Symbian (s nok) and Android platforms. The company has a web site that helps members find nearby hotspots, complete with maps pinpointing their locations. There are also Symbian and Android apps to work with WeFi on the fly. The company collects anonymous data from devices that connect to a hotspot via the service, along with generic information like how many devices are connected to a particular hotspot. With a population base of over 5 million users, and a database of 60 million hotspots globally, the statistics show big changes in Wi-Fi usage.

Wi-Fi Data Usage by Platform

For instance, 50 percent of all Android devices analyzed consumed more than 500 MB of data per month each through Wi-Fi hotspots, and 20 percent of those Android owners flew through more than 2 GB of data over the month. That’s a lot of web usage on phones, superphones or not.

Where’s the iPhone (s aapl) usage in this report? Nowhere, as Apple doesn’t like Wi-Fi scanning apps like WeFi. The report details the reason that iPhone data was not included in any of the reported statistics:

Note? that? this? report? does? not? contain? information? acquired? through? iPhone? devices.? WeFi? has? developed? a ?client ?application? for ?the? iPhone ?platform ?as ?well, ?however ?due ?to ?the ?decision ?made ?by?  Apple? to ?ban ?all? Wi?Fi? scanning ?applications in? February ?2010,? this ?application? is ?not? available? on ?the? formal ?iPhone ?App? Store? (iTunes).? WeFi’s ?application ?is ?very ?popular, ?however,? on ?the? “alternative”? iPhone ?App ?market, ?Cydia; ?but? since? Cydia ?users ?do? not ?necessarily? represent ?the? typical? iPhone ?user ?population,? the ?iPhone ?data ?is? not ?covered? in ?this? report.

Symbian is still a huge platform globally, and smartphones using it have been around for a good while. The Wi-Fi data usage reflects that popularity, with over 60 percent of Symbian devices using 0 – 500 MB of data monthly. Very few Symbian devices clock in more than 2 GB of monthly data usage, unlike Android users. This fits in with the duration of session information, which shows 70 percent of Symbian owners jump online, get business done and jump off in less than 5 minutes.

Over 80 percent of notebook/netbook owners use more than 2 GB of data per month, a healthy amount of data which indicates hotspot sessions run much longer on computers than on smartphones. The heavy monthly usage (on all platforms) is noteworthy, as it serves as an indicator of how much data can be used routinely on any device. Some carriers offer 3G hotspot capability for smartphones, with Verizon (s vz) charging a healthy overage fee for consumption over 2 GB in a given month.

The statistics comparing Wi-Fi usage against 3G show that users consuming less than 100 MB monthly are happy with 3G. The higher the data usage, the more likely the consumer turns to Wi-Fi instead of 3G, even on smartphones. This will concern the carriers wanting to convert everyone to 3G. Our Mobilize event next month will highlight all aspects of the mobile scene; hopefully we’ll see what the carriers think about this.

These statistics prove that smartphone owners go online often, and some stay online for longer periods than ever before. The difference in this usage shows Symbian owners go online for short periods, while many Android owners stay online for an hour or longer. The carriers are surely watching the heavier use of Wi-Fi, and likely trying to figure out how to get users back onto the 3G data networks. How about getting rid of the monthly data caps?

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): Are You Empowering Your Mobile Work Force?



i installed wefi in my nokia n95 8GB but it shows disconnected can someone tells me how to use wefi in my phone? And how can i be able to connect free wefi


In the first month of using my EVO, I used a ton of data. After using Locale to turn WiFi on and off automatically when I’m at home, I’ve been using far less 3G. For me it’s a no-brainer: fast WiFi at home, turn it off on the road to save battery.

It seems to me that this is a catch 22 for the carriers: they want to free up capacity on their networks but they don’t want people using WiFi that they aren’t getting paid for.


I think it really depends on how fast “3G” really is and what sort of app mix you are running. I can consistently and solidly stream audio over 3G, video is ok if the server is solid, say YouTube, and for the lighter browsing and info lookups, it is almost unnoticeable whether I am on Wifi or 3G. Which makes sense when I typically see 3-4 Mbps down on 3G and 3ish down on WiFi… (my home network is on a “highspeed” cable feed and it certainly is impacted by time of day issues) Latency is certainly better on WiFi but I don’t game on my phone.

Typically I only switch over to WiFi if I am in the couple rooms in my house that have 3G issues.


I’ve been advocating for years that 3G data caps are keeping people in the stone age, especially when laptop data usage can easily go over 10GB/month for heavy-duty users.

The problem with US service providers is that for years they have taken for granted the act of milking consumers, charging exorbitant amounts for services which provide very little. In Europe I can get a 14GB/month data plan for around $35, and if I go over, my speed is merely throttled down to EDGE. Now AT&T thinks they will win consumers by offering a paltry 200MB for $15? Today’s smartphones and internet apps are designed to relentlessly gouge data, not casually sip it.

When you consider how many people in the US today pay roughly $100/month or more for their cellphone bill (a major percentage), and still face caps AND get hit with overages, is it any surprise that WiFi usage is so widespread?


I think it is very data plan dependant. If you have a small cap you worry about going over, try and stay on WiFi as much as possible, especially for high bandwidth stuff like video, and thus produce the “97% of our users use less than X MB/months” stats.

I have a 6 GB/month cap and never bother with WiFi unless I am either having issues with 3G (is a tad flaky at the house in some rooms) or am playing around seeing what free WiFi is out there when I am out and about. I am also far more likely to tether my netbook to my phone than to use a free hotspot that I am not sure how well secured/managed it is.

Solid data plans would drive up consumption rates.

Richard Garrett

James, why would carriers want to get usage off WiFi and back onto their networks if not to be able to realize income from users exceeding monthly data caps? It seems dropping caps would exacerbate (some) network(s) issues and reduce profits.

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