Two-thirds of mobile service providers interviewed by Infonetics Research said they have deployed 20,000 to more than 150,000 Wi-Fi access points in public spaces.
Infonetics interviewed 24 mobile, incumbent and competitive operators for its survey, which also revealed that street coverage is seen as one of the areas of greatest deficit for Wi-Fi. "By 2013, the percentage of service providers planning to deploy Wi-Fi for street coverage jumps to 79 percent," said the firm.
The top driver for Wi-Fi offloading is complementing the mobile data service by enhancing throughput, and that is followed by the scarcity of licensed spectrum as a key motivator.
"Mobile operators are firmly behind carrier Wi-Fi as a key solution for mobile offload, even as they continue to investigate other small cell possibilities," said Richard Webb, a directing analyst at Infonetics.
He said that in the future, operators will demand closer integration of Wi-Fi with the mobile network so offloading becomes more intelligent, automated and seamless.
In a separate study on the carrier Wi-Fi equipment market, Infonetics calculated that global revenue for carrier Wi-Fi equipment expanded by 35 percent in 2011. The firm projects the global carrier Wi-Fi equipment market will grow in the high double-digit percentages annually at least through 2016, when it will hit $2.1 billion.
As for the leading equipment providers, BelAir Networks--which was recently acquired by Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC)--Cisco and Ruckus Wireless together account for more than two-thirds of 2011 global carrier Wi-Fi equipment revenue, said Infonetics. The firm anticipates new players will enter the market, disrupting early market-share standings. Infonetics suggested the growing demand for Wi-Fi integrated base stations could shift market share toward mobile infrastructure vendors.
Aside from mobile operators trying to offload mobile data traffic onto Wi-Fi, other drivers of Wi-Fi equipment sales include the ongoing extension of Wi-Fi hotspot services by fixed-line operators and Internet service providers as well as the use of Wi-Fi to enhance broadband services offered by cable and DSL operators. "Many operators will soon be upgrading their existing access points to new Wi-Fi standards, such as the forthcoming 802.11ac protocol," said Webb.
Small Cell Forum says 75% of macrocell traffic can be offloaded to 10 small cells
Backhaul issues may slam small-cell plans
Survey: 76% of industry insiders say small cells play a role in their networks
Ruckus CEO: Wi-Fi offloading demands creativity
Shaw's planned Wi-Fi rollout still in trial phase