Tier one mobile operators believe Wi-Fi offload will provide 22 per cent of all additional data capacity during 2013 and 2014, according to a report published by the Wireless Broadband Alliance.
The research found that by 2018, Wi-Fi offload will continue to make a similar contribution (20 per cent of additional mobile data capacity), with another 21 per cent coming from small cells integrated with Wi-Fi.
Data offload currently accounts for an average of 20 per cent of a mobile operator’s data traffic but this rises to 80 per cent in densely populated areas such as transport hubs and cafes. Offload levels in homes and businesses are between 50 and 60 per cent.
Just over half of the 197 respondents — the majority of which were operators (either mobile or fixed operators, as well as wireless ISPs and pure-play Wi-Fi providers) — said they are more confident about investing in Wi-Fi to supplement cellular networks than they were a year ago.
This confidence is attributed to an increase in hotspot deployments and more ambitious business plans from some operators. Maravedis-Rethink, the research company that compiled the research, forecast that 10.8 million hotspots will be deployed in 2018, compared to 5.2 million in 2012.
Of the respondents planning to launch a next-generation hotspot network, data offload was cited as the most pressing driver for investment.
The European Commission recommended in August that more spectrum be set aside for Wi-Fi to ease pressure on 3G and 4G networks.
Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, has also warned there will be a growing demand for Wi-Fi capacity with it becoming “increasingly difficult” to find significant amounts of additional spectrum that can be fully cleared for Wi-Fi and mobile broadband.
In February, Cisco forecast a 13-fold growth in mobile data between 2012 and 2017, with 46 per cent of traffic offloaded to fixed or Wi-Fi networks by 2017 compared with 33 per cent in 2012.