With Wi-Fi, the mobile carrier of the future might be American Express, Facebook or Microsoft (or almost anyone)

Mike Dano

It's no secret that Wi-Fi technology is rapidly becoming a critical element of users' mobile experience. Indeed, Cisco said that fully 46 percent of all global cellular traffic last year was offloaded onto Wi-Fi networks or femtocells.

Most of that offloading is occurring in users' homes or offices, but increasingly it is occurring in areas where there are public Wi-Fi hotspots. Already, companies like Google, Republic Wireless and others are taking advantage of this trend by offering "Wi-Fi-first" service plans that push users' data traffic onto Wi-Fi networks if they are available, and fall back only to cellular when necessary (thereby keeping costs low).

But such services may be the start of something much bigger.

Imagine a future where American Express was your primary mobile carrier. The credit card company is already making moves in this direction by offering its customers access to over 1 million aggregated public Wi-Fi hotspots from Boingo. American Express' goal is to make its core service stickier by adding Wi-Fi access as a perk.

Similarly, Microsoft appears to be in the initial stages of launching its rumored Microsoft WiFi service, presumably as an incentive to push sales of its forthcoming Windows 10 operating system.

And since companies like Netflix, Facebook and Twitter have built their businesses around getting users online and logged in to their respective services, it's reasonable to assume these companies too may eventually offer a passcard to public Wi-Fi networks as a way of pleasing existing users and garnering new ones.

So what does all this mean? Is there an opportunity here? And if so, which companies are already in the space?

These are exactly the questions I worked to address in my latest feature: Click on this link to read the full story. And let me know what you think in the comments! --Mike | @mikeddano