Analysts: Mobile Wi-Fi data usage to grow faster than mobile cellular data usage

A recent research report from analysts at investment bank J.P. Morgan found there are approximately 50.6 million public Wi-Fi hotspots in the U.S. and mobile Wi-Fi data usage now exceeds mobile data usage on cellular networks.

In a research note, J.P. Morgan analysts Philip Cusick, Ava Zhang, Richard Choe and Eric Pan wrote that the 50.6 million hotspots include 40 million amenity hotspots, 9.7 million hotspots deployed by ISPs and 900,000 pay-per-use hotspots from commercial providers such as Boingo. Among the 9.7 million deployed by ISPs, some 660,000 are in public spaces, while 9 million are "homespots" deployed by cable companies and other ISPs in customers' homes and businesses.

According to the analysts, Cisco estimates that 57 percent of U.S. mobile data usage is already on Wi-Fi. This amounts to approximately 2.5 GB of data per month on Wi-Fi, compared to 2 GB of data per month on cellular networks. Over the next five years, the analysts expect mobile Wi-Fi data usage to grow at a 29 percent CAGR while mobile cellular data usage will grow at a 24 percent CAGR. This rapid growth will be facilitated by growth in the number of hotspots as well as easier access to the hotspots, according to the report.

The report portrays Wi-Fi as being more of a complementary technology to cellular technologies rather than a competing technology. The J.P. Morgan analysts see carriers as having very different views on Wi-Fi for network use.  AT&T has more than 34,000 Wi-Fi hotspots and actively uses Wi-Fi to reduce traffic on its cellular network. In 2010, AT&T began deploying Wi-Fi Hot Zones in areas with high traffic levels. Verizon, on the other hand, has avoided building its own Wi-Fi networks but appears to be interested in trialing LTE in unlicensed spectrum in 2016.

The analysts contend that Wi-Fi-centric mobile offers, such as Cablevision's Freewheel offering, are likely to be launched by Google and cable companies, with one such launch coming from Comcast as early as 2016.

In April, Google launched Fi, a Wi-Fi-centric mobile offering that uses the networks of Sprint and T-Mobile when a Wi-Fi network is not available. The service provides unlimited mobile Wi-Fi usage for $20 per month, with cellular data billed at $10 per GB for usage in the U.S. and internationally. Customers receive refunds for data that was purchased but not used. To date, the Nexus 6 is the only device that can be used with Fi. Google has not disclosed how many Fi customers it has so far, but the company has indicated that it has a waiting list for Fi customers.

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge recently told Bloomberg that following approval of Charter's $56.7 billion deal to acquire Time Warner Cable, one of Charter's next moves would be to expand its Wi-Fi footprint in homes and public spaces. Industry analyst Chetan Sharma recently told FierceWireless that Charter will likely look to add mobile voice and data components to its portfolio of products.

Related articles:
Analysts: Charter's Time Warner Cable deal could signal shift into wireless
Google's 'Project Fi' MVNO won't shake up the wireless industry, but it could give it an important nudge
Cablevision may take Freewheel Wi-Fi voice service abroad