November 22, 2011
2:10 PM -- Devicescape Software Inc. 's third-quarter Wi-Fi report, released on Tuesday, confirms what most wireless operators are quickly learning -- consumers love Wi-Fi, and they've come to expect it as part of their wireless service. In fact, some can't tell it apart.
So the backlash, if Wi-Fi stops being free, could be severe. (See Wave Goodbye to Free Wi-Fi and Can Towerstream Make $$ With Free Wi-Fi?)
Among the offload vendor's 1,040 members, 82 percent said Wi-Fi is very important for smartphone and tablet use, and 88 percent thought it was superior to wireless for rich media services like video. What's more, 83 percent expect wireless operators to provide them with a Wi-Fi network as part of their bundle, and that's not necessarily because they are upset about data caps. More than 26 percent said they didn't know their service provider was capping data. (See Verizon Sheds a Tier for Unlimited Data, AT&T Intros Mobile Data Caps, T-Mobile Revamps Wireless Pricing and The 4G Dichotomy .)
Nearly 90 percent of Devicescape's tech-savvy respondents knew when they were on Wi-Fi versus cellular, but that may not be indicative of the entire population. Last night I was reading a consumer magazine Real Simple, that had a chart detailing what data service consumers should sign up for (they recommended Verizon Wireless ), and among the misguided assertions the article made was that AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) offers free, unlimited access to its network at hot spots around the country.
AT&T does have an extensive and free Wi-Fi network, but it's certainly not the same as its GSM one. I think this speaks to consumers' view of Wi-Fi. They see it as a part of a wireless service now. Even if they get the difference, they don't care. It's inextricably linked and something they expect, not as a bonus.
Most wireless operators agree that they haven't seen any Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX)-like backlash to capping data plans, because it affects such a small portion of the heaviest-data users. But, that clearly won't be the case if free Wi-Fi is revoked.
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile
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