U.S. mobile phone users are slowly reducing their reliance on Wi-Fi as carriers continue to ramp up their unlimited data offerings.
That’s according to data from OpenSignal, which recently published its second Wi-Fi versus mobile data report. The study looks at shifts in data consumption for the “big 4” carriers as unlimited plans become more accessible.
OpenSignal, which tracks wireless coverage through crowdsourcing data via its downloadable mobile app, analyzed the 90-day period beginning on December 1, 2017. It revealed that time spent by Verizon subscribers on Wi-Fi dropped to 51 percent from 54 percent, while AT&T customers’ use fell to less than half at 49 percent, down from 52 percent on the corresponding period last year.
Elsewhere, T-Mobile customers’ reliance on Wi-Fi dropped 2 percentage points to 41 percent, while Sprint remained static at 51 percent.
Last February, Verizon announced an $80/month unlimited data plan before replacing it a few months later with a new $75/month alternative (with some restrictions) and an $85/month plan (with additional benefits). AT&T also launched a slightly more expensive unlimited data plan, while Sprint sprang into action with a new unlimited data plan of its own, and T-Mobile rolled out some notable improvements to its unlimited plans.
Put simply, the unlimited data war that kicked off last year has likely had some impact on how users access the internet via their mobile devices. While it’s not exactly a huge pain finding and connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots in cafes and other public places, if a user has unlimited data at their disposal, they will be more inclined to stick to their own network.
However, Wi-Fi clearly still holds some advantages, depending on the activity of the user. For example, Verizon’s $75/month plan only includes DVD-quality video streaming, while the company may also throttle speeds during busier times.
The drops reported by OpenSignal are marginal, of course, and we will have a better idea of whether this is a long-standing trend when we see relevant data for the next year or two. However, the figures do indicate that mobile phone users in the U.S. are becoming less reliant on Wi-Fi.