The vast majority--fully 83 percent--of respondents to a recent survey commissioned by Wi-Fi solutions provider Devicescape believe that wireless carriers should provide them Wi-Fi access as part of a bundled package.
The survey found that 88 percent of respondents are aware of when their devices are running on a Wi-Fi network as opposed to a cellular network, and that an equal amount believe Wi-Fi is better for rich media applications like video. Additionally, the survey found that almost 82 percent of respondents say that Wi-Fi is very important when it comes to using a smartphone or tablet, while only 4.9 percent say it is not important.
Taken together, the survey results, which are part of Devicescape's quarterly Wi-Fi report, indicate that wireless customers think Wi-Fi access is an integral component to any mobile data experience and that Wi-Fi is the clear preference to cellular networks for certain types of applications. The survey also comes at a time when cellular traffic on carrier networks is skyrocketing and carriers are looking more than ever to Wi-Fi offloading as a way to manage data traffic on their macro networks.
"While carriers promote Wi-Fi as a cost-saving measure for their users, the reality is that Wi-Fi is everywhere, and in most cases, it is free. Wi-Fi offers unlimited bandwidth, and can be accessed for free in many public places like parks, schools, cafés and retail stores," said a report accompanying the survey. "It is also becoming easier to use, thanks to evolving Wi-Fi applications and smartphone hardware that makes the process of locating and logging onto Wi-Fi networks a seamless and often passive activity done automatically by the network operator."
In an interview with FierceWireless, Devicescape CEO Dave Fraser said he expects wireless carriers to take a more proactive approach toward Wi-Fi. He said in the next six to 12 months carriers may change their terms of service to require that, as part of a data plan, users be switched automatically to a Wi-Fi network of the carrier's choice when it is available.
"The carriers want to offload traffic on the Wi-Fi network that they have either built or contracted for," he said. "What we are seeing is that carriers are going to insist that they get control over the Wi-Fi network." Fraser said he anticipates these changes will not come with additional charges for customers.
The survey, conducted in the third quarter, queried 1,040 randomly selected Devicescape members, a group the company said includes a variety of professionals and students. Devicescape's overall membership numbers 3 million.
Wireless carriers are currently hard at work integrating Wi-Fi into their portfolio. AT&T (NYSE:T) said the number of connections to its Wi-Fi network nearly tripled year-over-year in the third quarter to 301.9 million. AT&T also said that the amount of data on its Wi-Fi network in the quarter more than doubled from the year-ago period. Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) committed earlier this year to using Wi-Fi offloading techniques to handle increased data traffic on its EV-DO and LTE networks in homes as well as crowded hotspots such as hotels, airports and stadiums. And Wi-Fi connectivity firm iPass recently said that the company's research indicates that flat-rate player (and a Devicescape customer) MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS) may be offloading as much as 20 percent of its cellular traffic onto Wi-Fi networks. Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) has also added Wi-Fi offloading to its repertoire of network management tools this quarter.
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