• 06/24/2015
    8:00 AM
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WiFi Offloading To Skyrocket

Carriers will offload a four-fold increase in mobile data traffic to WiFi networks by 2019, Juniper Research predicts.

Cellular carriers will offload nearly 60% of mobile data traffic to WiFi networks over the next four years, according to a new study from Juniper Research.

Carriers in North America and Western Europe will be responsible for over 75% of the global mobile data being offloaded in the next four years, Juniper said. The amount of smartphone and tablet data traffic on WiFi networks will will increase to more than 115,000 petabytes by 2019, compared to under 30,000 petabytes this year, representing almost a four-fold increase.

WiFi offloading, also called carrier WiFi, has become pervasive as many big cellular carriers and ISPs have deployed large numbers of WiFi hotspots in cities using the existing infrastructure of their customers’ homes and businesses. This enables carriers to offload the saturated bandwidth on 3G and LTE networks.

Figures for 2013 put the total number of Wi-Fi hotspots owned by mobile operators worldwide at 6.5 million. That number is forecast to grow 62% by 2018 to 10.5 million.

The Juniper report stresses that small cells -- femtocells, or low-power cellular base stations typically designed for use in a home or small business -- will account for an increasing share of the data offloaded.

"With WiFi-integrated small cells, seamless data services can be extended to non-cellular devices as well, such as cameras and WiFi-only tablets, offering operators the opportunity to develop new revenue streams," wrote Nitin Bhas, head of research at Juniper Research.

WiFi offloading currently offers a good solution to cellular data bottlenecks, but operators cannot rely solely on residential customers to carry the bulk of the data.

“Operators need to deploy [their] own WiFi zones in problematic areas or partner with WiFi hotspot operators and aggregators such as iPass and Boingo,” Bhas added.

The capacity of the 2.4GHz band is reaching its limit. Studies at the University of Twente in The Netherlands have demonstrated that the growing number of WiFi devices using unlicensed bands is seriously affecting network efficiency. Capacity is compromised by the number of simultaneously active devices, with transmission speeds dropping as much as 20% of the nominal value. With the number of IoT and M2M applications using WiFi continuously rising, that could become a serious problem soon.

Most residential customers are using the default WiFi router supplied by the ISP, which is commonly a basic 802.11n device working on 2.4 GHz. One solution ISPs have used is to start shipping 802.11ac WiFi routers, enabling their customers to switch to the less crowded 5 GHz band.

For mobile operators, WiFi has moved from being a threat -- an enabler of additional competition in the hands of wireline carriers or startups -- to a significant opportunity to meet the demands of their customers in a high quality yet cost effective way.

While the report suggests that 50% of the world's data traffic being offloaded will be in the US and Western Europe, it also points out that developing markets, such as India, are experiencing a significant surge in mobile data usage, with some carriers doubling it year over year.

Because those countries lack a robust wired telecom infrastructure (both on landlines and fiber), it's much more difficult for their carriers to offload data to WiFi. In many developing markets, most consumers do not have any landline and rely exclusively on cellular data for internet access.


Conspicuous by its absence

Amazingly, Verizonwireless does not offer wifi hotspots. In NY, Optimum wifi hotspots are ubiquitous. It would be great if Verizon offered this but it does not look to be in the roadmap. That is why i have such a big book of wifi networks on my device!

Re: Conspicuous by its absence

That is really curious. Verizon has a huge customer base on fiber and cable, and some of those customers could be converted into hotspots.

When I lived in Boston I noticed that most cable internet customers buy their own WiFi routers, something that stops ISPs to use them for offloading. Maybe that is the case with Verizon.

Re: Conspicuous by its absence

It could be that Verizon does not have any extra bandwidth to spare in some of their operational areas otherwise the firm would not overlook the potential revenue that could be gained from mobile data providers. And, for areas that have extra bandwidth the company could utilize their partnership with Marvell to provide offloading.  


Hi Pablo -- Have you seen any studies of the impact of WiFi offloading for the carrier customers whose WiFi is being used? 

Re: QoS

Hi Marcia, not yet!, I'm sure there will be some.

I know ISPs promising that the performance won't be affected because they will increase the nomila speed of the DSL, cable or fiber connection to accomodate the addtional traffic. And the "guests" won't be able to use more of the customer's bandwidth.

However, addtional devices on a router cause QoS problems, and an increase of ping delay. For people downloading large files it won't be an issue, but it could afect browsing or gaming experience.

Re: QoS

Ah, OK, thanks Pablo. I still plan to disable the functionality on my WiFi service. 

Re: QoS

I feel that the result of offloading on the user side would also be dependent on the cabling infrastructure. If a user is connected to DSL through fiber to the neighborhood (FTTN) then, offloading aside, the user would be lucky if a quarter of the advertised speed reaches their devices. However, if the infrastructure is based on fiber to the desktop (FTTD) there will be 100x of capacity available to the provider to provider offloading capabilities to guests.

User subscription would also affect a user's attractiveness as an offloading point. For instance, if a user has signed up for an 8Mbps DSL connection then, the user will be valued as a better potential offloading point compared to a user that has subscribed to a 16Mbps DSL connection.

Re: QoS

Brian, on FTTH, which is the most common standard in Europe, ISPs are advertising that they will increase the bandwidth by 10% to accomodate offloading. 

Also European ISPs are required to turn-off the secondary SSIDs if the residential customer asks. Obviously they only offer WiFi offloading to customers who offer to share their connection.

Re: QoS

Specifically Telecom operators tend to use same bandwidth for Enterprise customers and Mobile backhaul, but ideally it should be different, in order to optimize and deliver quality service to end user.

Re: QoS

Specifically Telecom operators tend to use same bandwidth for Enterprise customers and Mobile backhaul, but ideally it should be different, in order to optimize and deliver quality service to end user.

Re: QoS

One of the biggest problems is the lack of small cells, which are expensive to install, to cover the needs of the data hungry devices. That is where WiFi offloading comes handy, as frees up data slots on 3G/4G and delivers better bandwidth, especially to 3G customers.

Re: QoS

No doubt lack of small is a problem, but with attached cost their are number municipal/ govt protocols which need to followed in order to plant any small cell site, which seems big hurdle than cost. I guess you most affordable medium which can help us to offload data to the Wi-Fi networks, but at most of the places wifi dont have a direct connection to the public Internet.

Re: QoS

I see some posters have mentioned Republic Wireless. While wifi offloading may become a fallback technology to supplement cellular service, companies like Republic Wireless will be the scourge of wifi offloading. Having been with them, I can tell you that they are a company that represents an unscrupulous model that tries to turn a profit from nothing. Turning lead into gold, so to speak. Here you have a company whose mantra is to be a leech and a freeloader on other people's wifi connections; and even worse, they try to scam people into paying $5/month to use their own wifi connection at home, which they already pay for, just to have the call shunted through their wifi servers. It doesn't get any slimier than that. And to promote their "wifi vampirism" model, they actually punish people who may need to use cellular data by charging a gross $15/GB of data - an obscene price to charge, especially when you have major carriers charging far, far less for mobile data. What's going to happen, in short order, is that those who offer free or guest wifi to customers will quickly start to lock down their wifi connection to keep freeloaders off of it, and that in turn will begin the downward slide into companies and business starting to charge you for using and/or accessing their wifi. Actually, it's already started. Some small busineses in my town have started to keep track of your business expenditures with them and if you stop spending your money at their establishment, they deactivate you having access to their 'free' wifi, until you start buying products/services from them again. So, in the end, less than honorable companies like Republic Wireless will actually hurt, more than help, any wifi-offloading goodwill that may be building.

Re: WiFi Offloading To Skyrocket

I've definitely noticed an increase in the prevelance of WiFi offloading - some wireless providers, like Republic Wireless, even make a point of advertising their focus on WiFi offloading and how much money it can save customers. They have a dashboard where users can check how much of their traffic gets offloaded - encouraging them to offload more to save more. I've heard mixed points about the impact of WiFi usage on network efficiency, so when I saw that tidbit from the University of Twente, I thought "a drop by 20%? that's not too bad for most users." - but, checking the full report, it looks they predict a drop to  as low as 20% of the nominal value, not by 20% of the nominal value... in fact, they say it could go even lower. That's scary.

I also live in Boston, and you're right, Pablo - for the longest time I avoided the the router provided by my ISP, Comcast, and bought my own. I finally gave in, though, as they wouldn't stop pushing it, and I'll say I haven't noticed any performance problems to speak of (I live in a suburban area). Comcast advertises complete security through segmentation between the public WiFi and home WiFi networks my router provides, and supposedly this helps keep performance optimal, but many people are still nervous about privacy. All in all, 60% of all traffic and a four-fold increase still seems rather high to me. Reminds me of Cisco's crazy IoT predictions - there's plenty of truth to it, but they might be reaching for the stars.