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Behind the Wi-Fi Data Use of Big Carrier Subscribers

By Dennis Jones

Examining big carrier data subscriber WiFi use

In the past, we’ve examined the industry move back to unlimited data plans at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. But we have yet to really look at the effects of that return on actual subscriber data use. Well, the numbers are rolling in, giving us a unique opportunity to gauge the Wi-Fi data use (in particular) of big carrier subscribers.

Let’s first take a step back.  Starting around summer 2016, one big carrier after another began reintroducing some version of an unlimited data plan. The move was widely seen as an acknowledgment that data-hungry subscribers had the leg up. Subscribers could vote with their feet; and with the fewer net-new subscribers to acquire, big carriers had to focus on pleasing their existing subscribers, who were clamoring for more and more data at lower and lower prices.

It’s now been a year or so since the reintroduction of unlimited data plans. And recently, a partnership between the tech publication, FierceWireless, and the strategy consultancy, Strategy Analytics, helps to show us how subscribers are, in fact, consuming data, taking major carrier, Android subscriber data from the month of December 2017. Here’s what they found:

  • Across three major plan types of the four major carriers, monthly allowance, no data plan or Pay as You Go, and unlimited data, average data use was highest on unlimited data plans. No surprise there. Data use was substantially lowest among Pay as You Go subscribers.
  • Average Wi-Fi data use, on the other hand, ran relatively even between data plans with a monthly allowance and unlimited data plans, with the edge in raw data use going to the former.
  • But across all three major plan types, Wi-Fi data use dwarfed cellular data use. Pay as You Go subscribers used Wi-Fi 91 percent of the time, while monthly subscribers used Wi-Fi used Wi-Fi 83 percent of the time. Even unlimited subscribers, who have no financial incentive to use more Wi-Fi than cellular, used Wi-Fi around 70 percent of the time.

This final finding, in itself, might be the most interesting. People have speculated that the reintroduction of unlimited cellular data plans might lead to the collapse of demand for Wi-Fi. But the numbers say something altogether different, when given the cost-neutral choice, subscribers still flock to Wi-Fi, at least 70 percent of the time.