MetroPCS may be offloading at least 20% of its traffic to Wi-Fi

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An executive at the Wi-Fi connectivity firm iPass said her company's research indicates that MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS) may be offloading as much as 20 percent of its cellular traffic onto Wi-Fi networks. During an interview with FierceWireless, iPass CTO Barbara Nelson said some operators are unwilling to offload traffic to Wi-Fi unless they own the network, while others, such as MetroPCS, are offloading a significant amount of traffic to Wi-Fi now. "Although they are not broadcasting it, we estimate 20 percent of MetroPCS' traffic is offloaded to Wi-Fi," Nelson said.

MetroPCS would not confirm the iPass statistic. However spokesman Drew Crowell said the firm is "encouraged by what we are seeing with traffic offloaded to Wi-Fi."

In December, MetroPCS announced that its new Android-powered smartphones would automatically link to Wi-Fi hotspots. Specifically, the company said that the Huawei Ascent and LG Optimus M devices would be preloaded with Devicescape and Boingo clients, which can link customers' smartphones to Wi-Fi hotspots without users having to search, log in or instigate the connection.

Although 20 percent of traffic may seem like a high number, Monica Paolini, a consultant with Senza Fili Consulting, said that it really isn't because heavy users are those who seek out the Wi-Fi hotspots or use Wi-Fi where available, and it only takes the top 10 or 20 percent of users to use Wi-Fi heavily enough to get to that 20 percent figure or even exceed it.

She also said that much of the Wi-Fi offload traffic isn't necessarily on public hotspots but instead in home or office Wi-Fi networks. "The peak hour in data consumption is at 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. at night--and most people are at home," Paolini said. "It is reasonable to assume that many are using Wi-Fi then, as it does not count towards their [data] caps and it's usually faster" than the cellular network.

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