5G Gets Top Billing, But Don’t Forget Wi-Fi

This week, we released the latest update to the Cisco Mobile Visual Networking Index (VNI) Forecast (2017 – 2022). The annual study provides global, regional, and country-level projections and trends associated with mobile (cellular) networks as well as an analysis of mobile traffic that is offloaded onto WiFi. As many members of the mobile industry are preparing for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, we wanted to take the opportunity to share some of our insights on two technologies that will be prominently featured at this global event – 5G and Wi-Fi.


5G Emerges as a Transformational Cellular Innovation

During the current Mobile VNI Forecast period (2017 – 2022), 5G will move from small-scale trial environments to some initial larger-scale commercial deployments. There has been considerable hype and hoopla around 5G over the past few years, particularly regarding its potential performance enhancements. With the potential to support speeds exceeding 1 Gbps (in the future) and ultra-low latency, 5G’s performance is anticipated by many to be a real game changer in mobile technology. By 2022, we believe 5G’s initial impact will be measurable and significant.



Here are some additional 5G projections from our analysis:

  • Globally, there will be more than 422 million 5G connections by 2022.
  • By 2022 the average 5G speed will be 170.2 Mbps, which will be more than 4X faster than the average 4G speed (44.0 Mbps by 2022).
  • Globally, the average 5G connection will generate 2.6X more traffic than the average 4G connection by 2022.


While these projections are impressive, the full value and transformational capabilities of 5G cannot simply be measured by performance improvements over 4G (higher bandwidth, broader coverage, and lower latency). 5G will also deliver enhanced power efficiency, cost optimization, massive IoT connection density and dynamic allocation of resources based on awareness of content, user, and location. 5G will be able to concurrently support both low-end IoT applications (such as sensors and meters) as well as high-end IoT applications (such as autonomous driving cars and tactile Internet experiences). You can learn more about Cisco’s perspectives and solutions for 5G here.


Wi-Fi: The World’s Wireless Workhorse
While the MWC spotlight will shine brightly on 5G (and deservedly so), the role of Wi-Fi and its ongoing innovations should not be overlooked. As global mobile carriers seek to manage peak use or spikes in cellular traffic, Wi-Fi strategies have become an integral part of most carriers’ comprehensive wireless coverage plans. Furthermore, as mobile users have become more sensitive and aware of mobile data caps, they often seek Wi-Fi access to avoid costly overages. Since the vast majority of personal handsets and devices have dual-mode capabilities (cell and Wi-Fi), mobile access and traffic can be accommodated much more efficiently with a two-pronged approach to wireless connectivity.


Here are a few more Wi-Fi key takeaways from our analysis:

  • Globally, 111.4 exabytes of mobile data traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi by 2022 compared to 13.4 exabytes in 2017 (on a monthly basis).
  • Globally, by 2022, 51% of total IP traffic will be Wi-Fi, 29% will be wired, and 20% will be mobile (cellular).
  • Globally, total public Wi-Fi hotspots (including homespots) will grow 4-fold from 2017 to 2022 (from 124 million in 2017 to 549 million by 2022).
  • Globally, in 2022 the average Wi-Fi connection speed will be 54.2 Mbps, up 2.2-fold (17% CAGR) from 2017 to 2022.

And Wi-Fi can boast its own upcoming performance and operational enhancements as well. Wi-Fi 6 is the next-generation wireless standard that’s faster than 802.11ac. More than speed, it promises to provide better performance in congested areas, from stadiums to your own device-packed home (see Wi-Fi 6: What’s Different, and Why it Matters by Chris Hoffmann). You can also get more technical details on Wi-Fi 6 from Cisco’s technical paper: The Sixth Generation of Wi-Fi.


Preparing for the Future of Mobile Networking

I hope this brief blog gives you some new high-level insights on the dynamic changes that are taking place in mobile networking. The full Cisco Mobile VNI report includes additional information and analysis on mobile traffic growth, mobile devices/connections, mobile IoT by various industry verticals, mobile IPv6 adoption, mobile network performance, Wi-Fi offload from cellular devices/connections, and mobile tiered pricing (unlimited and shared plans). Once again, the team has developed a great deal of information (some updated and some new). Over the next few weeks, each of the senior analysts responsible for the forecast will provide blogs that explore other areas of our research and their global implications.


Cisco Mobile VNI Forecast Resources



Thomas Barnett, Jr.

Director, SP Thought Leadership

Worldwide Service Provider Marketing Group