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A New Type of Mobility

Mobile used to mean the connectivity service that you bought from your local mobile network operator that freed you from the wire connected to the wall. The rise of Wi-Fi has changed all that. Most mobile devices are now Wi-Fi-enabled (see blog posting “What Is a Mobile Device Anymore?”). Wi-Fi has broken the MNO’s monopoly of providing wireless freedom to consumers. While Wi-Fi may not provide all of the features of mobile cellular technology, consumers now have a choice in how they want to connect their devices wirelessly to the Internet – mobile cellular or Wi-Fi.

To learn more about what consumers are doing with their mobile devices, and how and where they are using them, the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) recently conducted a survey of U.S. mobile users. Following are our top three findings related to mobile connectivity:

1.     Mobile users are connecting their devices predominantly via Wi-Fi.

The shift to Wi-Fi-enabled devices and locations is clearly showing up in how users are choosing to connect their devices to the Internet. As the chart below shows, most mobile users are connecting their devices via Wi-Fi at some point, including 70 percent of smartphone owners. Approximately 50 percent of tablets, laptops, and eReaders are connecting exclusively through Wi-Fi. Although 30 percent of smartphone owners are connected only via the mobile network, the remaining 70 percent are supplementing mobile connectivity with Wi-Fi. In fact, on average, smartphone users use Wi-Fi one-third of the time to connect their devices to the Internet. Even more astounding is that, with the exception of smartphones, users would prefer to connect all of their devices via Wi-Fi. Given a choice, more than 80 percent of tablet, laptop, and eReader owners either prefer Wi-Fi to mobile access or have no preference. And, just over half of smartphone owners would prefer to use Wi-Fi, or are ambivalent about the two access networks.

Network Connectivity Type (by Time)

Source: Cisco IBSG, 2012

2.     People prefer Wi-Fi to mobile for connecting their mobile devices.

Remarkably, if given a choice between access networks, mobile users choose Wi-Fi over mobile across all network attributes, with the obvious exception of coverage. Also worth noting is that across most attributes, one-quarter of consumers see no difference between the two networks. While Wi-Fi cannot compete with the now nearly ubiquitous coverage of cellular networks, it is remarkable that consumers consider Wi-Fi easier to use and more reliable than mobile. And, despite the technical superiority of cellular mobility in the area of security, people clearly do not make this distinction. As is often the case with technology, there seems to be a huge gap between the technical reality and user perception across the key distinguishing attributes of the two access networks.

3.     The “New Mobile” = Wi-Fi + Mobile.

The results of our research seem to indicate that we may be on the verge of a “New Mobile” paradigm—one in which Wi-Fi and mobile networks are seamlessly integrated and indistinguishable in the mobile user’s mind. Almost 60 percent of consumers were “somewhat” or “very” interested in a proposed offer that provides unlimited data across combined access networks for a flat monthly fee. Unsurprisingly, the biggest perceived benefits were lower overall costs and unlimited data, signaling the end of uncertainty about overage charges. However, more than one-quarter of people liked the location flexibility, reliability, and seamless transfer between networks that this proposition offered.

Cisco IBSG conducted its online survey of 1,079 U.S mobile users in March 2012. The study was also undertaken in Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Full results of the survey can be downloaded here.

Future articles will highlight additional findings from the study and our predictions for key changes in the mobile industry over the next two years.

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