Wi-Fi carries around 80 percent of mobile data traffic, says Mobile Experts Principal Analyst Joe Madden. He predicts that 90 percent of mobile data will be carried over Wi-Fi and other unlicensed spectrum by 2020.
Such statistics show the nuances of value in the access services space. One might be tempted to suggest that, with that much traffic offloaded to Wi-Fi, much more access revenue “ought” to accrue to Wi-Fi hotspot networks, or the fixed line Internet access services, than to the mobile network.
But, as so often is the case in telecommunications, usage and revenue are different matters. It often happens that usage is indirectly related to revenue. There is a connection, though. The business model impacts, for suppliers of mobile devices, fixed and mobile access services, are quite significant.
For many years, the primary value of a public Wi-Fi hotspot network was the incremental value generated for fixed Internet access services. Likewise, the ability to offload data consumption, as well as the ability to tether a mobile device to Wi-Fi, have been important contributors to the value of specific mobile service plans and devices.
That remains the case. The new issue is how much additional value can be wrung from Wi-Fi, as an access method supporting or replacing mobile access. Wi-Fi-only services have been quite rare. Cablevision Systems Corp. tried that, and will be shutting down its service.
Much more common are Wi-Fi-first models, exemplified by Iliad’s Free Mobile, Google Fi and most coming cable TV-owned or operated mobile services.
Still, even when mobile networks do not support most of the data consumption, the value of mobility remains intact, even when most traffic consumption uses Wi-Fi.
On the other hand, widespread Wi-Fi access essentially puts a limit on the amount of mobile access consumers must buy.