Deloitte: Two-thirds of U.S. consumers prefer Wi-Fi over cellular

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. consumers say they most often connect their smartphones to Wi-Fi networks as opposed to a macro cellular network when using the Internet, according to a recent survey by professional services and advisory firm Deloitte.

The survey found that 93 percent of U.S. tablet owners prefer to connect to Wi-Fi over cellular, 71 percent of "large smartphone" or phablet owners do and 64 percent of regular smartphone owners prefer Wi-Fi.

Respondents answered the question "Thinking about how you connect your devices to the Internet, which type of connectivity do you use most often?" 

Craig Wigginton, vice chairman and U.S. telecommunications sector leader at Deloitte, told FierceWireless the percentages were not overly surprising, especially for devices such as tablets, which most people use in fixed settings such as offices and homes.

"The U.S. has been a little of a laggard on Wi-Fi adoption," he said. "These percentages are now more aligned with some other countries." Wigginton also said that this represents a reversal from Deloitte's 2012 survey, when only around one-third of U.S. consumers surveyed picked Wi-Fi as opposed to cellular. He attributed the change to several factors, including greater awareness of Wi-Fi, the ability to distinguish between different networks, data caps as part of cellular plans and cellular usage alerts sent out by carriers.

Usage of Wi-Fi while "out and about" and "at someone else's home" is also increasing (with 44 percent of respondents indicating use at someone else's home, compared to 37 percent in 2012), particularly in comparison to "at home" and "at work."

The Wi-Fi metrics are just one set among many found in Deloitte's report, its third annual "Global Mobile Consumer Survey." The survey was commissioned by Deloitte's global Technology, Media and Telecommunications practice and is based on an online survey of consumers across 20 countries. The survey was conducted by an independent research firm between May and July 2013 and yielded 37,600 responses globally. In the United States, the survey yielded 2,000 respondents.

Among the most interesting findings from the report is that 41 percent of U.S. consumers said they would be willing to pay more for substantially faster mobile data speeds (3x-5x). While 55 percent said they would not pay more for faster service, 22 percent said they would pay $10 more than they currently pay, 11 percent said they would pay $20 more and 8 percent said they would pay $30 more. "It does point to some potential tiered offerings," with plans based on different speeds, Wigginton said.

U.S. carriers do not charge based on speed tiers the way wireline broadband providers do, but there is the potential for them to do so, Wigginton said. Sprint (NYSE:S) is rolling out its "Sprint Spark" service, which it claims will deliver 50-60 Mbps in real-world downlink speeds, and Sprint executives have indicated the possibility of charging based on speed in the future.

"You've got customers willing to pay more for these tiered speeds, I think that's positive," Wigginton said. "People love speed and they're going to need more bandwidth and faster speeds going forward. Speed does breed the desire for more speed."

For more:
- see this Deloitte release
- see this Deloitte report (PDF)

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