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Facing data caps, consumers keep turning to Wi-Fi

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As network operators continue to move away from unlimited mobile broadband data plans, consumers are making a move of their own to free or low-cost Wi-Fi hot spots. According to the quarterly Devicescape Wi-Fi Report due out later today, 64 percent of consumers surveyed hit hot spots at least once a day. Home Wi-Fi use can help reduce data usage, but for most smartphone owners who supplement their data plan with Wi-Fi, a full 89.8 percent use Wi-Fi both at home and on the road.

This Wi-Fi adoption is good for both the carriers and the Wi-Fi industry, of which Devicescape is a part. The San Bruno, Calif., company creates software that helps devices connect seamlessly to Wi-Fi networks and surveys its customers every three months for the wireless report. Some additional highlights from this quarter’s data include:

  • Of those who use Wi-Fi outside their home or office, most (24.4 percent) connect at a café or coffee shop, 17.3 percent at a hotel and 15 percent at a school campus.
  • Data capping continues to play a role in consumer satisfaction this quarter, with 72.9 percent of respondents presuming they will switch carriers if faced with data capping.
  • A full 80 percent will likely adjust their downloading habits if data capping is introduced by their carrier.
  • Wi-Fi is still considered a necessary feature, with 82 percent of respondents expecting it to be included in their overall data plan.

The last point may be of more interest to network operators, who are increasingly looking for ways to combat data demand that’s rising fast. Earlier this year, Cisco (s CSCO) said it expected the average mobile user to consume 1,185 MB of data per month by 2015. That’s far more than the 250 MB that AT&T (s t) claimed was used by 65 percent of its customers when the carrier switched from unlimited to tiered mobile broadband plans. In light of this demand growth, network operators are looking to offload data users onto Wi-Fi networks, in addition to using other demand-reduction strategies.

With nearly three-quarters of the 1,227 Devicescape survey respondents saying they’ll leave their carrier if faced with data caps, I’m wondering who they’ll turn to. Following AT&T’s move to plans with limited amounts of data last June, Verizon(s vz) has suggested it will do the same this summer. And due to AT&T’s proposed purchase of T-Mobile, the number four carrier, AT&T and Verizon will account for nearly 80 percent of all cellular customers in the U.S., all of whom are likely to have limited mobile broadband plans.

Instead of leaving the major carriers, it’s more likely that most mobile subscribers will keep their contracts and simply find more hot spots. Even with a relatively small surcharge for Wi-Fi, consumers want to keep the data flowing on their smartphones and tablets. We’ll see if the subscriber numbers change after Verizon modifies its plans, but one thing is certain: Wi-Fi has surely migrated from a lowly home network connection and has become a major go-to solution on the road for many data users.

Image courtesy of Flickr user fboyd

7 Responses to “Facing data caps, consumers keep turning to Wi-Fi”

  1. Countryfolk

    Living in the country, Verizon (or other carrier) is my only option for internet, and now I can’t even watch a movie… they put a “speed limit” on me too… thought I was paying for unlimited broadband and not near dial-up.. but the price is still the same. And now they are trying to sell me a new faster phone.. WTF???

  2. Justin

    Seems like the carriers have to walk a fine line here. If they continue to force developers and consumers to move more bandwidth to wi-fi, they may incentivize a build out of a competing wireless intrastructure that is wireless and mobile enough for a lot of users. I know that besides my 20 minute drive and when I’m walking through the neighborhood, I’m on wi-fi, which is not as reliable. I long for the day when the telcos for us to move all traffic off their networks.

    • Agreed, we just need a smarter WiFi — a “3G-Smart” WiFi network.

      Our start-up company has developed the software so that all the functionality of a cellular network [auto-sign-on, “roaming” 3G/4G-to-WiFi, value-added services (SMS, MMS, IM, VOIP)] cna now happen over WiFi.
      A faster, cheaper, “smarter” Wifi over industrial strength (carrier-grade) long-range roof-top-mounted WiFi antenna, arrayed large-scale WiFi MetroZones. Then the User has truly on-the-go mobility. don’t have to find the hotspots, the MetroZone “finds you (your smartphone) whenver you roam into coverage.

      smturner-nyc, Blu-Linx Technology

  3. Steve Crowley

    The FCC does not directly consider the effects of Wi-Fi offloading, nor data caps, when estimating the need for mobile broadband spectrum, as it explicitly states in its October 2010 Technical Paper “Mobile Broadband: The Benefits of Additional Spectrum.” Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, relied on heavily by the FCC to justify sweeping spectrum reform, says we should be offloading only 23% of data. That sounds low to me given the numbers above.