Many people anticipated that the roll out of EE’s 4G service last year would signal the beginning of a great data deluge over mobile networks as consumers rushed to more easily download and stream data on their smartphones.
This however has not happened: if anything, the speed at which data is consumed by 4G has meant that consumers have increasingly been left looking for alternatives to their plans rather than simply racking up huge additional monthly bills. This has therefore (and as a surprise to many industry commentators) led to a marked increase in Wi-Fi usage, which although good for the consumer has left the mobile network operators (MNOs) scratching their heads on a number of fronts.
2012 witnessed an unprecedented level of interest and investment into the deployment of public Wi-Fi (in cafes, bars, gyms, libraries etc) with a geographic reach that reached truly global proportions. Add this to the growing popularity of smartphone usage over home Wi-FI networks and the problems for MNOs are clear to see.
What is the impact of a seemingly unlimited transition to free-to-end-user Wi-Fi in public locations on users’ perceived value of Internet access on the go? And what impact is user dependency on Wi-Fi having on their willingness to pay for bigger data plans or to deliberately avoid incurring (lucrative) overage charges? How do MNOs gather critical user information when end-users are using additional networks to that of their provider? How can MNOs combat the challenge of Over The Top (OTT) services like Skype & What’s App?
Wi-Fi offloading is also becoming a bigger factor in emerging markets too as operators seek ways to handle the onslaught of data traffic impacting their mobile networks. Although this represents a solution to overloading a mobile network’s infrastructure, it does still pose the very serious question; how can MNOs monetise Wi-Fi traffic?
To give this some context; according to data published by China Mobile in February, it generates US$0.0367 for every megabyte transmitted on its cellular networks, but just US$0.0004 on Wi-Fi.
In short, MNOs need to evolve if they are to remain competitive and relevant to consumers, but the key here is that public and private Wi-Fi has given, and will continue to give mobile users greater freedom of choice. And this is ultimately a good thing – for us at least!