Consumers are rational. That is why they use Wi-Fi. But they might be equally rational in the 5G era when there is no financial advantage to offloading mobile device access. The data seems unclear, at the moment, but if users pay no penalty for remaining on the mobile network all the time, that is probably what they will do.
So far, there is some contradictory data on user behavior when mobile data usage is unlimited, for example, and when mobile access if as fast, if not faster than Wi-Fi.
U.S. Android users consume most of their mobile data using Wi-Fi. But you might be surprised that customers on unlimited usage plans also rely mostly on Wi-Fi for data access. But that is what happened in January 2018, according to Strategy Analytics.
Android customers buying unlimited usage plans consumed only about 28 percent of total mobile device data using the mobile network, 72 percent on Wi-Fi.
That seems counterintuitive, if most users also are on 4G networks offering performance often better than Wi-Fi (especially on public hotspots). In fact, behavior should already be changing.
“Customers are rational,” says Craig Moffett, MoffettNathanson analyst. “When pricing incentives favor Wi-Fi, customers use more Wi-Fi. When pricing incentives shift, so does behavior.”
In fact, some studies suggest that nearly 40 percent of U.S. “at home” access uses the mobile internet, not a fixed connection. In part, that might be because most internet sessions now happen on mobile devices. In part, that might be because many users do not buy fixed internet access, or do not pay for it.
Many of those users say they are on unlimited usage plans and therefore do not need to offload to Wi-Fi to save money.
Of course, it also is possible that self-reported usage actually does not reflect actual usage. Respondents might have been connected to a Wi-Fi connection at home, and not known it. The sample might be include an unrepresentative universe of respondents who do not buy, or have access to, fixed internet access, and must rely on mobile network access.
Still, Wi-Fi usage could fall in the future, as more users opt for unlimited plans, as 5G networks start to offer speeds equivalent or faster than fixed connections and as the cost of mobile access starts to near parity with fixed network prices.