Wi-Fi offloading picks up speed worldwide

Wi-Fi offloading is becoming a bigger factor in emerging markets as operators seek ways to handle the onslaught of data traffic impacting their mobile networks.

China Mobile's recent financial results show just how important offloading is becoming to operators in less-developed markets. According to Matt Ablott, an analyst with Wireless Intelligence, although Wi-Fi accounted for a fraction of China Mobile's wireless data revenue, it handled nearly two-thirds of wireless data traffic. The operator had 3.83 million Wi-Fi access points in place at year-end 2012, noted Ablott in a column for Mobile World Live.

Wireless data traffic over China Mobile's networks has surpassed SMS in terms of revenue, expanding 54 percent year-on-year, said Ablott.

Wi-Fi offloading is poised to become more important in Thailand, where private and state-owned operators have created a consortium aimed at installing 250,000 Wi-Fi hotspots this year and 400,000 by 2015. Ablott said other major Wi-Fi investments are being undertaken by Bharti Airtel across all of its 17 African markets, starting in Niger, Ooredoo's Indosat in Indonesia, TIM in Brazil and Axiata in Malaysia.

The Wi-Fi offloading trends developing in China resemble those in more advanced markets such as Japan, the United States and South Korea, said Ablott.

He noted Japan's KDDI predicted earlier this year that half of its mobile data traffic would be offloaded onto its Wi-Fi networks by this month, up from 43 percent at year-end 2012. At the end of last year, KDDI had sold 1.65 million Home Spot residential Wi-Fi units in the 10 months following the product's launch and had 220,000 public Wi-Fi access points.

U.S. operator AT&T (NYSE:T) recently announced that it recorded more than 2.7 billion connections to its Wi-Fi network during 2012, more than double the number recorded in 2011. The operator also reported three times more mobile device traffic, over 5.2 billion MB, was exchanged on its Wi-Fi network in 2012. Further, the carrier said 40 percent more Wi-Fi network connections were made in 2012's fourth quarter by smartphone and tablet devices compared with the same period one year earlier. An AT&T executive said 80 percent of those connections are attributed to AT&T's own mobile customers.

For more:
- see this Mobile World Live article

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