WiFi has huge role in mobile capacity management

16 February 2013 by Steve Blum
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There’s a reason Cisco bought Meraki.

Four times as much traffic goes via WiFi as on mobile data connections, when users’ Android smart phones and tablets have the capability to do both. A recent mobile data study by Cisco showed that, worldwide, the average Android owner sent 55.4 MB of data on WiFi connections and only 13.9 MB via mobile data networks on the average day in December 2012.

Cisco’s conclusion is that tablet and smart phone customers are using WiFi as a way of “staying within the limits of their cellular data plans”. Another research thread showed that the global move by carriers to tiered pricing is having an impact on mobile data traffic patterns.

Only Android devices were considered in the research because it’s being crowdsourced. Cisco has convinced 12,000 users across six global regions to install an app on their Android devices that tracks data usage and reports back. It’s an ongoing project, with results tabulated on a monthly basis. If you want to participate, you can download the app here.

Overall, though, the same pattern is appearing. Mobile users are offloading traffic onto WiFi networks and femtocells, slowing the annual growth rate of worldwide traffic from an estimated 74% to 66% over the next five years.

It’s a good trend for consumers and mobile carriers alike. The more traffic that can be sent via lower cost networks – purpose-built WiFi offload access points, hotspots and WiFi hops to residential and commercial wireline connections – the lower everyone’s cost of doing business becomes. Carriers will still invest in new infrastructure and spectrum because mobile data traffic is booming regardless. But anything that helps relieve the capacity crunch will push monthly subscription prices down, meaning more people will be able to afford and use mobile devices, leading to more revenue for carriers in the long run.