Wi-Fi is changing how we use smartphones and vice versa

Despite the availability of Long-Term Evolution (LTE) in South Africa, Wi-Fi will remain the preferred form of connectivity for the foreseeable future according to Ruckus Wireless, Inc. (NYSE: RKUS).

A Mobidia-sponsored Informa White Paper* has found that, globally, Wi-Fi data usage is much greater than cellular on 3G and 4G smartphones. Monthly Wi-Fi use on 3G devices increased 24% last year to 3.2GB and jumped 86% on 4G devices over the same period to 7.3GB. By comparison, for example in South Africa, 67% of Vodacom 3G customers using Android devices are on data plans of only up to 500MB per month; 59% for LTE users.

“We are seeing Wi-Fi increasingly being used for both data-intensive services such as video and music streaming as well as automated ones such as synchronisation to the cloud and online backups,” says Michael Fletcher, sales director for Ruckus Wireless sub-Saharan Africa. “Mobile cellular access is typically focused on lighter applications such as social networking and conducting product price comparisons when shopping.”

Fletcher believes that Africa has always been a mobile-first continent and the increase in broadband penetration is perpetuating this. “The need for reliable and cost-effective Internet access is increasing constantly. Manufacturers are releasing more affordable smartphones which are impacting how people access their information. Those users who have previously only been able to afford basic feature phones are now able to experience the connected world in a totally different manner,” he says.

The White Paper states that the newer 4G markets of Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Brazil, with a relatively small number of end-users, are helping drive a shift towards larger data plans.

“However, these larger data plans need to be integrated with Wi-Fi access to provide a better end-user experience. This is especially important considering how quickly one is able to use up a typical data plan on LTE networks given the increase in speeds. Wi-Fi hotspots provide a perfect solution to enable faster growth in data usage,” says Fletcher.

To this end, several Internet service providers (ISPs) in South Africa are bundling Wi-Fi access with their fixed-line and mobile data offerings to diversify the connectivity options available to end-users.

“LTE and 3G will remain supplementary to Wi-Fi for the foreseeable future. The challenge for network operators will be to ensure that it does not erode their profit centres but add to them through a more engaged, satisfied and increasingly ‘connected to the Internet’ customer base,” concludes Fletcher.

* Smartphone use transforming with the rise of 4G Wi-Fi, Informa in association with Mobidia, February 2014

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Wi-Fi is changing how we use smartphones and vice versa