Globally, about 80 percent of all Internet data is generated by the mobile network, says Robert Pepper, Cisco VP. In India, device to macrocell traffic represents 30 percent of all traffic.

So Wi-Fi offload is about 66 percent of all mobile data consumption, and will reach 71 percent within about five years.

Mobile service providers might still prefer to operate their businesses using licensed spectrum, but unlicensed spectrum now is necessary, since the mobile network likely could not easily support all the traffic people already use.

When AT&T introduced the Apple iPhone in June 2007, almost no AT&T customers used a smartphone, so AT&T had no firm idea of the impact adoption would have on its network.

By the the end of the first quarter of 2012, 59 percent, or 41.2 million, of AT&T’s postpaid subscribers had smartphones, lifting AT&T mobile data traffic 20,000 percent in five years. In fact, AT&T mobile data volume has doubled every year since 2007.

“It’s been a challenging year for us,” said John Donovan, AT&T CTO, said in 2009.

“Overnight we’re seeing a radical shift in how people are using their phones,” Donovan said. “There’s just no parallel for the demand.”

In many cases, iPhone users were consuming an order of magnitude more data than users of other smartphones and 24 times more data than feature phone users.

So it comes as no surprise that Joan Marsh, AT&T VP, says AT&T Mobility now “depends on offloading” to support its mobile business. “We increasingly look to unlicensed spectrum to augment our licensed spectrum,” Marsh said.
Both small cell deployments using licensed spectrum, carrier Wi-Fi and third party Wi-Fi, using unlicensed spectrum, will be fundamental parts of the network fabric.

ABI Research has forecast that the number of LTE small cells will grow by 200 percent in 2014 and by a similar factor each year through 2019, when the value of LTE small cells will reach more than $5 billion in equipment, while another $5 billion will be spent for 3G solutions.

The Asia-Pacific region will represent over 50 percent of the global small cell equipment market by 2019.