Cisco has released research finding on WiFi and how consumers use WiFi. Cisco predicts that mobile data traffic will increase 18 fold from 2011 to 2016. At the same time, Cisco reports that the use of WiFi for Internet access is exploding as more mobile devices are WiFi enabled and the number of public hotspots grows amidst wide user acceptance of WiFi. The report was released on the 24th of October by the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) by Stuart Taylor and Andy Young. The report was based on a research of 1,079 United States mobile users.
There has been an "explosion" of nomadic devices such as laptops, smartphones, tablets and ereaders. These include the iPad - 88 percent of iPads sold in the UK were WiFi only. All these devices all have WiFi capability but only 20 percent had cellular connectivity.
Research shows that consumers are increasingly turning to their mobile devices for entertainment including video, music, books and games.
While mobile devices are meant to be carried around, it turns out that consumers spend about 2.5 hours on a typical day using such devices at home, more than twice the amount of time they spend using such devices at work. Public locations and retails locations such as stadiums, schools, restaurants and parks account for less than 0.5 hours each while usage on the go is just about 0.5 hours.
For all users, WiFi was the predominant choice, probably because it is cheaper. Even though smartphone users have cellular connectivity, 70 percent connected to a WiFi access point at some point., leaving only 30 percent as predominant cellular network users. "On average, smartphone users use WiFi one third of the time to connect their devices to the Internet", says the report. 80 percent of tablet, laptop and eReader owners would either prefer WiFi to mobile access, or have no preference.
Not surprising, respondents preferred WiFi over mobile networks when given a choice of both. Surprisingly, they considered WiFi easier to use and more reliable over mobile networks, despite mobile networks having far more coverage. Taylor and Young attribute this to smartphones and tablets which they say have made WiFi ubiquitous and easier to use.
Users perceived WiFi and mobile networks to be equally secure, despite mobile networks been far more secure. "As is often the case with technology, there seems to be a huge gap between the technical reality and user perception across the key distinguishing attributes of the two access networks," say Taylor and Young.
One third of respondents admitted using public hotspots at least once a week. Outside the survey, in Brazil, the church was among the top places where people used public WiFi. This is due to Brazilians spending lots of time in church. Typically, public hotspot availability is usually a result of growth in smartphone and tablet use and availability.
When it comes to public WiFi usage, more than 75 percent of consumers expected not to pay for usage at all, while some of those preferring to pay preferred to do so as part of a customer loyalty program.
The report says WiFi is a great way to customer retention by telecommunication providers who offered the same. 22 percent of survey respondents said they would be "very" or "completely" likely to switch to a provider offering free WiFi.
Cisco suggests that we may be on the "verge of a new mobile paradigm" where WiFi and mobile networks are seamlessly integrated and indistinguishable to the user. "Almost 60 percent of consumers were 'somewhat' or 'very' interested in a proposed offer that provides unlimited data across combined access networks for a flat monthly fee," says Cisco.
Concluding, Cisco sees new ways for operators to make money from WiFi offloading - where data users are connected through public WiFi hotspots. Such ways include offering WiFi access to content stored online (cloud storage).
Operators can also use WiFi roaming at no additional cost as a differentiator to services offered by their competitors. Outlets offering free WiFi are able to enhance their shopping experience including having the ability to offer personalised coupons.
Cisco's Top 5 mobile and WiFi predictions:
Mobile will become one of the primary ways people access entertainment within the next two years: 75 percent of mobile users will access social networks; more than 50 percent of mobile users will watch streamed and recorded videos; and up to 50 percent of mobile users will read ebooks.
WiFi use will remain dominant at home with more than 50 percent of WiFi use occurring at home.
There will be increased device usage in public in the next two years with about 15 percent of usage being in public places.
WiFi is expected to become a predominant access technology for smartphones in the next two years with more than 75 percent of smartphones regularly using WiFi and smartphone users using Wifi almost 50 percent of the time to connect to the Internet.
Much of the growth of WiFi usage is expected to come from "nomadic" devices (non smartphones) with 25 percent of users expected to have ereaders and 33 percent having tablets.
Full results of the US survey can be downloaded here.
Wi-Fi on the increase in Africa:
The first Wi-Fi enabled flight in South Africa took place on 8 May 2012.
Some hotel groups have been offering free WiFi for guests since May this year although it is capped at 100MB of usage.
South African banking institutions are offering free Wi-Fi access for customers at certain branches.
More than 70% of South African tablet owners are using the devices to shop online. Vodacom Contract, Top Up and Prepaid customers who have Wi-Fi enabled laptops, cellphones and PDA's , but do not have 3G/HSDPA devices or are in poor 3G/HSDPA coverage areas, will be able to access Broadband services using Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi service is accessible at 650 Wi-Fi hotspots locally.
Bandwidth Barn and CITi have provided the platform for RedButton, a local WiFi service provider, to change the local Wi-Fi landscape in South Africa. In South Africa, hotspot visitors usually have to pay to surf, and while some hotspots offer free access, the service is often erratic because they have to find ways to manage the high bandwidth cost.
MTN MiFi now offers a portable WiFi device that allows users connect up to five WiFi enabled devices such as Laptops, Tablets, Phones and other such devices simultaneously to the internet. All a customer requires is one data subscription on the MiFi device, with which he/she can connect the WiFi enabled devices to the internet.
The Airtel Broadband WiFi solution is enabling users in Nigeria to share broadband connection with more than one computer or device in their office or homes. Instead of being transmitted through cables or wires, the broadband connection is transmitted via radio waves. This solution can also serve as a backup internet solution in case of any downtime company's primary internet connectivity source
iWayAfrica Nigeria Ltd has designed Business Wi-Fi, a Commercial Wi-Fi hotspot that allows customers to setup and run an Internet cafe on their premises enabling users to browse the internet, check emails or even access document on their corporate networks.
In 2011 Google in collaboration with African cable and internet services provider, The Wananchi Group launched a new high-speed wireless broadband network 'Wazi WiFi' in Nairobi, Kenya with Aptilo Networks.This launch is a part of Wananchi's commitment to bring high speeds and low cost Wi-Fi in emerging markets. The Wananchi network already delivers affordable, high-speed internet access at Nairobi's Junction Shopping Mall area. The service is free for the first ten minutes of use per day on each device. Users can then purchase a single day pass for Shs.50 per device and Shs.500 for one month per device.Customers can pay for the service online using credit cards or local mobile money solutions including M-PESA, Airtel Money and PesaPal. Wazi Wi-Fi is being delivered via Aptilo Cloud Services, a hosted solution that meets rapid time to market and time to revenue objectives.
In 2012 Orange Kenya Limited launched its new orange Wi-Fi enabled flybox router which aims at capturing the pre-paid as well as post paid market which comprises of small businesses, households and premium internet users'. In its quest to tap into the Kenyan data market, the product will enable Orange customers to set up their wireless connections within their homes and offices without the use of a fixed line. The Orange Flybox device handles up to 10 computers which can access the internet concurrently through the newly launched Orange 3G network.