Cable ISPs Vs. Mobile Carriers: Untangling the Future of Wi-Fi

Despite the advances in cellular data transfer speeds and coverage, Wi-Fi continues to be the primary hub for mobile device data. In addition to being the dominant method of connectivity for current mobile users, trends like the Internet of Things (IoT) and proliferation of wearables (smart watches, glasses, etc.) are raising consumer expectations when it comes to wireless connectivity and availability.

Wi-Fi Everywhere

Mobile carriers are engaged in fierce competition to offer fast, affordable data plans for their customers, but the lion’s share of data is still being transferred over Wi-Fi. According to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, 70% of all data is transferred occur over Wi-Fi networks. Despite the availability of relatively fast data plans from mobile carriers, users are still predisposed to using Wi-Fi when it’s available. A recent global survey shows that there is a 150:1 user to public Wi-Fi access point ratio worldwide, but some research predicts that gap closing to 20:1 by 2018. It remains to be seen what effect Wi-Fi ubiquity will have on ISPs and mobile carriers, but an influx of public Wi-Fi hotspots is bound to challenge mobile carriers to step up speeds and lower prices.


Providers are acknowledging that their customers expect to always stay connected, and some are rising to the challenge. To further compete with mobile carriers, some cable ISPs are offering plans that allow subscribers to essentially take their Wi-Fi with them. For example, in the San Diego market, Time Warner Cable is offering its customers (and Cox Communications subscribers) access to hundreds of hotspots across the city. Additionally, Time Warner has developed a network of 17,000 Wi-Fi access points across the entire Southern California region. If this trend continues, cable ISPs could prove to be a direct competitor for cellular providers in the mobile data market.

Connect Directly

With the burgeoning IoT and wearables markets poised to skyrocket over the coming years, there is real potential for current wireless networks to become overrun by too many connected devices. Thankfully, groups like the Wi-Fi Alliance are developing new wireless technologies that take some of that burden off of networks. New “Wi-Fi Direct” will allow devices enabled with the technology to connect one-to-one without a LAN connection. Wi-Fi Direct not only frees up bandwidth on wireless networks, it also builds seamless wireless connectivity between displays, printers, and other peripherals. Eventually, users will no longer need to fuss with wireless configuration settings.

Learn more about preparing your home or office for future connectivity by upgrading to 802.11ac.